France edge past Morocco to set up World Cup final showdown with Argentina. France are one match away from defending their World Cup crown after edging out Morocco 2-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final, and they will now take on Argentina in the final on Sunday.
Les Bleus raced into an early lead through defender Theo Hernandez but Morocco never wilted and it took a monumental rearguard display from France to prevent their giant-killing opponents from claiming another scalp, netting a second goal late on and recording their first clean sheet of the tournament in the process.
Morocco’s patched-up squad were nursing a host of injuries and niggles but manager Walid Regragui was able to name something close to his strongest XI – at least until Nayef Aguerd pulled out just before kick-off – while France were without Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano who had both missed training due to illness.
The African side had gone five matches in Qatar without conceding to an opposition player – an own goal against Canada the only blot on their remarkable defensive copybook – but it took just five minutes for France to break the deadlock.
In virtually their first foray into the box, a series of deflections and bounces saw the ball drop kindly for left-back Hernandez who acrobatically diverted his shot past goalkeeper Bono and into the back of the net to drown out the whistles from a stadium packed full of Moroccan fans.
Throughout this tournament, Regragui’s side have been characterised by their resilience and that was true again at the Al Bayt Stadium with the Atlas Lions never letting their heads drop despite the early goal. The lively Azzedine Ounahi very nearly levelled the scores, but his long-range curling effort was pushed away at full stretch by Hugo Lloris.
With Morocco chasing a route back into the game, France were being provided with space to break into and Olivier Giroud should have doubled his side’s lead but smashed his effort against the post; injury doubt Romain Saiss, playing with a heavily strapped thigh, struggled to keep pace with the not-exactly-rapid AC Milan frontman and had to be withdrawn moments later.
That became the pattern of the first half, with Morocco having plenty of possession but France creating the best chances. A turbo-charged run in behind the defence released Kylian Mbappe, whose initial effort was saved, while Giroud then spurned the opportunity to tuck home the follow-up with Bono stranded.
Just when it looked like Morocco were clinging on for half-time, they very nearly equalised after a spectacular bicycle kick from centre-back Jawad El Yamiq came within inches of sneaking in but he was denied by a combination of the post and Lloris’ fingertips. France may have been in the lead, but they were not yet in control.
Morocco remained in the ascendency after the restart, twice getting to the byline and twice forcing France’s centre-backs to make vital interventions. France still retained a degree of threat on the break and through set-pieces, while Abderrazak Hamdallah very nearly produced an equaliser after a bulldozing run, though he never pulled the trigger before being crowded out.
France made a number of changes late on, bringing speed and freshness to their attack, and it was substitute Randal Kolo Muani who killed off the tie with his very first touch; a quick-footed, slaloming dribble from Mbappe inside the box saw his shot deflect into the path of Muani, who fired home from close range to spark wild scenes of celebration from the holders.
Even that did not fully quell Morocco’s spirited showing, with a brilliant run and penalty box scramble forcing a goal-line stop from Jules Kounde to prevent a grandstand finish.
The result means France will now take on Argentina at the Lusail Stadium in Sunday’s showpiece, with Didier Deschamps’ side bidding to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to win the World Cup in back-to-back tournaments. Morocco, meanwhile, will take on Croatia in the third-place play-off on Saturday.