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  • Writer's pictureBruno Asoka

Bittersweet end to Moroccan fairytale as France face Argentina in the final

France set up a showdown with Argentina in the 2022 FIFA World Cup (WC) final after defeating a spirited Morocco side in the semi-finals,2-0. The Atlas Lions' sensational run to the final four ended Didier Deschamps' men's quest to become the first side to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.

The defending champs quickly took the lead, edging them out within the first five minutes. In order to create space in the Moroccan backline, Antoine Griezmann twisted in behind Jawad El Yamiq. Achraf Dari then successfully blocked Kylian Mbappé's shot, and when the rebound fell to Theo Hernández at the back post, he displayed incredible poise by patiently waiting for the ball to drop before burying it. Surprisingly, the full-back for AC Milan is the first to score a goal against the Atlas Lions in their past 10 international contests.

With little experience doing so in these championships, Morocco now had to come from behind, albeit the consistently outstanding Azzedine Ounahi gave Hugo Lloris a test as the African team searched for an immediate retort. However, as they advanced, France's possibilities on the break were growing, and Olivier Giroud took advantage of one to whirl around Romain Saïss and shoot against the post. Giroud, who is now the all-time leading scorer for his nation, wasted another excellent opportunity to extend France's lead from close range before the half.

As HT approached and spaces started to open up due to the injury to skipper  Saïss, Morocco were beginning to look ragged. However, El Yamiq almost offered a spark of inspiration at the other end when his daring bicycle kick struck the post. Walid Regragui's team was inches from from tying the score at halftime, but they would need to play better after the break because France had never lost a World Cup game after taking the lead.

Deschamps’ men had failed to keep a single clean sheet in the tournament heading into the semi-finals, but their last-ditch defending was proving effective enough to prevent Lloris being called into action as Moroccan pressure became relentless. France had effectively been playing the role of the away side all night long, as Morocco continued to be backed by the vast majority of supporters inside the Al Bayt Stadium. The feverish support was finally silenced with a little more than 10 minutes of normal time remaining as the French doubled their lead. Mbappé’s shot deflected straight into the path of Randal Kolo Muani, who tapped home at the back post with his first touch within a minute of being introduced to score his first international goal.

Jules Koundé successfully blocked Abderrazak Hamdallah's late attempt on the line as Morocco fought valiantly until the bitter end, but they could not overcome a French side that was well-versed in big-game situations. They play Argentina, who they defeated on their route to victory in the 2018 edition, with the goal of defending their title, while Morocco plays Croatia in the third-place play-off.

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