Defending world champions France squared off against giant killers Morocco in the second semi-final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday night (14 December). The spirited Africans threatened to cause another upset at the Al Bayt Stadium, but Didier Deschamps’ side simply had too much quality in their locker.
The heavyweights secured a well-deserved 2-0 win over Morocco to become the first team since Brazil in 2002 to qualify for two consecutive FIFA World Cup finals. They will take on Argentina in a tasty FIFA World Cup final on Sunday, 18 December.
France enjoyed a blistering start to the game, putting their noses in front after just five minutes of play. Kylian Mbappe got on the end of a sharp Antoine Griezmann cutback inside the Moroccan box. The Africans blocked both of his attempted efforts, but the rebound fell to Theo Hernandez, who improvised superbly to take the ball past Yassine Bounou. With the goal, Hernandez became the first opposing player at the 2022 FIFA World Cup to score against Morocco.
Morocco tried to restore parity immediately, with Azzedine Ounahi going for goal from outside the box in the 10th minute. French keeper Hugo Lloris leaped to his left to make a strong save with his left hand.
In the 36th minute, Aurelien Tchouameni played a sumptuous through ball to Mbappe inside the Moroccan box. Achraf Hakimi did well to clear the ball out of the six-yard box, but it found its way back to Tchouameni just outside the penalty area. The midfielder fed it to Giroud inside the box, prompting the AC Milan man to have a go at goal. He struck the ball well but could not keep his effort on target.
Just before the half-time whistle, Morocco center-back Jawad El Yamiq intercepted a loose ball following a Hakim Ziyech corner and tried his luck with an overhead kick. His effort was sublime, but the post came in the way to deny him the equalizer.
After an eventful first half, both teams went into their shells in the second 45. Morocco struggled to create anything of note while France looked content to circulate the ball. The defending champions sprung back into life with the introduction of Randal Kolo Muani in the 79th minute. Moments after coming on, Kolo Muani intercepted a rebound off Mbappe's shot at the near post and confidently put it away to double France’s advantage.
Morocco created their best chance of the second half in the fourth minute of injury time. Abderrazak Hamdallah latched on to a loose ball inside the box and tried to poke it in. Jules Kounde cleared his strike off the line to ensure France’s safe passage to the final.
Here are five French players who impressed as they booked their place in the 2022 FIFA World Cup final on Wednesday:
#5 Hugo Lloris
France skipper Hugo Lloris was not too busy against Morocco but he was there when his team needed him. Just before the half-time whistle, he did ever so well to deny Morocco the equalizer. El Yamiq’s overhead kick looked destined for the bottom-left corner before Lloris pushed it onto the post with his fingertips. His distribution was also decent and he commanded his box with commendable authority.
At the Al Bayt Stadium, Lloris stopped two shots, with one of them coming from inside the box. He also made a high claim, punched the ball clear once, and delivered five accurate long balls.
#4 Ibrahima Konate
Liverpool center-back Ibrahima Konate was practically an immovable object against the Atlas Lions. He cut out passes with unmatched efficiency, rarely misplaced a pass, and even stretched the game from deep.
On Wednesday night, Konate made four clearances, recorded five interceptions, blocked two shots, and made two tackles. He also completed 44 passes, played a key pass, delivered four accurate long balls, and won three duels. After the shift he put in against Morocco, Konate would not be wrong to expect a place in the XI against Argentina on Sunday.
#3 Kylian Mbappe
Paris Saint-Germain teammate and friend Achraf Hakimi did quite a number on Kylian Mbappe on Wednesday, not allowing him much joy inside the box. He still got a few opportunities, however, and both of France’s goals came through his blocked efforts.
The second goal, especially, would not have been possible without the superstar. Cutting into the box from the left, he danced his way past three Moroccan defenders before getting his shot away. It took a deflection off a defender to fall to Kolo Muani at the far post, who confidently tucked it away to score his first international goal.
The PSG ace also played a couple of key passes, completed a game-high six dribbles, and won six ground duels in the second semi-final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
#2 Antoine Griezmann
Operating in the hole just behind the striker, Antoine Griezmann once again ran the show for France. He slid into little pockets of space at will, created openings for his teammates, and put in quite a shift at the back as well.
The Atletico Madrid man played a game-high four key passes, delivered three accurate crosses, and created a big chance against Morocco on Wednesday. He also won seven duels, performed three clearances, made two interceptions, and attempted two tackles.
#1 Theo Hernandez
Drafted in for his injured brother Lucas Hernandez, Theo has enjoyed a stellar FIFA World Cup campaign in Qatar. The adventurous left-back has been sharp with his runs, consistent with his attacking play, and intelligent when linking up with teammates. On Wednesday night, he produced a near-perfect performance, scoring an excellent goal and making some vital defensive interventions.
In the fifth minute, he barged into the box from the left side, latched on to the rebound, and acrobatically turned the ball past Bounou. The way he adjusted his body to dispatch the high kick was remarkable. Additionally, he made four tackles, won all six of his ground duels, made an interception, and blocked a shot.