By Spy Uganda
France edged past Morocco during a frenetic semifinal clash to secure their place in Sunday’s World Cup final, with the reigning world champions holding off a spirited display from the North African side to win 2-0.
Left-back Theo Hernandez put France ahead after just five minutes at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday, firing an acrobatic effort past Yassine Bounou from close range to become the first opposition player to score against the Atlas Lions in Qatar.
Morocco responded forcefully to the early setback, controlling the majority of possession and pressing for an equaliser on either side of half-time.
France, who for large periods were second-best, held out nonetheless and Randal Kolo Muani put the game to bed late, tapping home from close range in the 79th minute to set up a showdown with Argentina in four days’ time.
France are looking to become the first team to retain the World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.
Morocco, the first Arab and first African country to make it to a World Cup semifinal, will face Croatia in a third-place playoff on Saturday.
Atlas Lions Never Overawed
For the first goal, Hernandez had to lift his left foot high to connect with a bouncing ball from a tight angle to finish off a sweeping move started by Antoine Griezmann’s run down the right and a cutback pass that star French forward Kylian Mbappe initially fluffed.
Denting Morocco’s hopes further, captain Romain Saiss was forced off at the 20-minute mark with an injury, further disrupting a backline that had been shaken pre-match by the last-minute replacement of fellow centre back Nayef Aguerd with Achraf Dari.
Aguerd, who had been named in the starting lineup despite concerns over a hamstring injury sustained earlier in the tournament, was deemed unfit to take part in the match following Morocco’s warm-up.
Attempting to capitalise on the disruption, France striker Olivier Giroud struck the post and missed from point-blank range in the first half at the end of a barnstorming run through the middle from Aurelien Tchouameni.
The midfielder threaded a superb ball to find Mbappe, whose miscued shot was poorly cleared, allowing Giroud a first-time shot that was wide from close-in.
But Morocco were never overawed and had opportunities of their own as Azzedine Ounahi forced two good saves out of French captain Hugo Lloris with speculative efforts, and curling set-pieces put the French defence under pressure.
Replacement centre-back Jawad El Yamiq was, however, closest to an equaliser with a spectacular bicycle kick on the stroke of halftime, from a poorly cleared corner by the French, with Lloris getting a vital touch as it hit the base of the upright.