WC 2022: Semi-Final 2: France 2 – Morocco 0

France headed to second straight final

French players celebrate their semi-final win.

France did in the first eight minutes what five other teams could not do to the Moroccan defense in the entire tournament (Only Canada scored against Morocco in the group phase and Morocco came back to win that game.)  Before and after Canada, European powers Croatia, Belgium, Spain, or Portugal failed to pierce the 5-4-1 wall that the Moroccans had built.

Theo Hernandez, hanging out on the left side of the box, pounced on a ball that deflected off of a defender from a shot by Mbappe and his acrobatic left footed half-volley beat the Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou and a defenseman on the line. Bounou’s numerous acrobatic saves had helped Morocco keep all of those blank sheets throughout the tournament. It’s interesting to note that Bounou decided to put his hands up to block the high shot, and Hernandez’s shot beat him at the midsection. This is in part to offer a defense for the technique used by many keepers that put their hands at their side to protect that exact shot (this was used by German keeper Manuel Neuer against Japan when they scored their game-winning goal.

Theo Hernandez beats Bounou for the firsg goal.

Facing a deficit for only the second time, Morocco’s Azzedine Ounahi’s shot headed towards the far post was saved by Hugo Lloris. In the 17th minute, Giroud took advantage of a weird bounce to get past the last Moroccan defender and his hard shot hit the left post. Giroud would hit again, going wide this time at 35’ after Mbappe had run down and had his shot blocked.

Nearing the end of the half, Morocco had their best chance yet but Jawad El Yamik’s bicycle kick also hit the post.

El Yamik’s acrobatic overhead kick almost equalized for Morocco

In the 65th minute, Marcus Thuram, son of legendary defender Lilian Thuram, came into the game to replace Oliver Giroud. He lined up on the left-hand wing and Didier Deschamps, France’s manager, sent Mbappe to the right. That modification changed the game. From that moment on, France had the better of the ball and the chances. In the 79th minute, with Mbappe back to the left, the French scored their second goal when Mbappe’s dribbling in the box attracted five Moroccan defenders. His pass across the mouth of the goalie box was perfect and all the recently subbed-in Randal Kuolo Mani had to do was tap it in.

Mbappe’s play was very reminiscent of the kind of play that Messi is capable of. Receiving a short pass from Thuram at the edge of the box, he eluded his first defender with a fake step forward before quickly going right. Having lost the initial defender (who bit on the Mbappe’s fake), it was tight dribbling in space that got him around the other four defenders before he laid a perfectly placed ball for the easy tap in.

Playing with Messi apparently has rubbed off on Mbappe. Usually known for his long, gallivanting, and furiously fast runs (a la Brazilian Ronaldo) that leave his defenders in his wake, he has now added this extra dimension; the ability to elude defenders in tight spaces before making a perfect pass to a temmate. Once a pure striker, he’s also capable of playmaking of the best quality. The fact that he’s only 23 years old is going to make him dangerous not only in the future, but most importantly, against Argentina in the final. 

The two teammates, Messi and Mbappe, who are arguably at the top of the world right now, will meet Sunday to decide who wins soccer’s most coveted trophy. Messi is seeking his first, and Mbappe is seeking to become the youngest player in history since Pele to win two World Cups.

NOTES:

Morocco’s defense, which had been stellar up to this game, suffered two huge setbacks. One of their center-backs, Naif Aguerd hurt his hamstring in the warmup. The other, captain Romain Saiss, who was born in France, tried to play but didn’t last more than 20 minutes.

“We gave the maximum, that’s the most important,” Morocco’s coach Regragui said. “We had some injuries, we lost Aguerd in the warm-up, Saiss at half-time. We paid for the slightest mistake. We didn’t get into the game well, we had too much technical waste in the first half, and the second goal kills us. But that doesn’t take away everything we did before.”

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