AL KHOR, Qatar — France is heading back to the World Cup Final and aiming to do something that hasn’t been done in 60 years – repeat as World Cup champions. France is making a return trip after defeating Morocco 2-0 in the semifinal.
It didn’t take long for France to silence the overwhelmingly pro-Morocco crowd at Al Bayt Stadium.
In the 5th minute, the Moroccan defense let a ball scoot by to French forward Antoine Griezmann who passed it to Kylian Mbappé. Defenders swarmed him but he still managed a shot, deflecting it to Theo Hernández. He elevated and sent the ball with a soaring left-footed scissor kick beyond keeper Yassine “Bono” Bounou to score 1-0.
It was the first time Morocco had trailed in the tournament.
Morocco’s defense and goalkeeping have been stellar this World Cup. Morocco hadn’t allowed a single goal by an opponent the entire tournament until the semifinal. They shut out European soccer powerhouses: Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. Canada is the only team credited with a score – but it was an own goal, put in the net by a Moroccan player.
The first half goal wasn’t the only down moment for the Atlas Lions. In the 21st minute, Morocco made an early substitution replacing their captain Romain Saiss who was injured (another defender, Nayef Aguerd, was pulled from the starting list just before kickoff also due to an injury).
France continued the attack the rest of the half. All-time French scoring leader Olivier Giroud had two golden chances – including a zinger that bounced off the left post.
Morocco’s best opportunity to score came in the 43rd minute. Jawad El Yamiq had a beautiful bicycle kick off a corner kick that seemed to surprise everyone except French keeper Hugo Lloris who just pushed it away.
Morocco started the second half with chance after chance after chance in front of the French goal. The pride of Africa played with renewed energy and enthusiasm and managed to keep the reigning champions on the defensive but they still could not find a way to score.
But France did. In the 79th minute, Mbappé zipped around the Moroccan defense and powered through a shot that fell to the feet Randal Kolo Muani who calmly kicked it in to give France a 2-0 lead. Kolo Muani had substituted into the game just a minute before.
Morocco came into the match against France unbeaten in its last ten games (7 wins, 3 draws) and the first African country to advance to a World Cup semifinal. They were also just the third nation outside of Europe or South America to reach this deep into the tournament (USA 1930 & South Korea 2002).
This was the seventh time France had reached the semifinal of a World Cup. It lost the first three (Brazil 1958, West Germany in 1982 and 1986). But it won the next four (Croatia 1998, Portugal, 2006, Belgium 2018 and Morocco 2022).
Even with the loss, Morocco has one more World Cup game to play – in the third place match against Croatia on Saturday.
The final is Sunday with France taking on Argentina and their star Lionel Messi who is seeking his first World Cup title.
Tom Goldman contributed reporting from Al Khor, Qatar, and Russell Lewis reported from Birmingham, Ala.