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France advance to World Cup final: Les Bleus to face Argentina after eliminating Morocco

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Morocco's World Cup dream is over, and France's dream of winning back-to-back titles remains alive. On Wednesday in the semifinal, France managed to score a goal in each half to advance to Sunday's final, beating Cinderella Morocco 2-0. The French will now face Argentina on Sunday in the cu[. Morocco will take on Croatia on Saturday in the third-place game. 

Theo Hernandez scored a close effort in the fifth minute for the game-winning goal, and as Morocco valiantly pushed for an equalizer, it was Randal Kolo Muani who tapped in a Kylian Mbappe deflected shot in the 79th minute to put a bow on it.

Here's the winning goal:

The early goal set the tone for France, but Morocco dominated possession and had some decent looks to equalize, seeing a bicycle kick from Jawad El Yamiq hit the post in the first half. 

Morocco were the darlings of the tournament and can still finished in third. They became the first African team to make it to the semifinals with their memorable run.

France, meanwhile, overcame numerous pre-tournament injuries, including to Ballon d'Or striker Karim Benzema, to make it all the way back to the big game.

Here are our takeaways:

Morocco went down swinging 

What a story. Representing not only their country and the Arab world, but all of Africa as well, Morocco will finish the World Cup at worst in fourth place having secured wins over Belgium, Spain and Portugal. While far from as talented as the big dogs, they still have a superstar in Achraf Hakimi who has been stellar. We saw Hakim Ziyech come out of international retirement to produce big moments, and Sofyan Amrabat may well have earned himself a big January move from Fiorentina with his stellar performances in the middle. 

It was, without a doubt, the most shocking Cinderella run at the World Cup that we've seen in a long, long time. 

"We gave the maximum. It is the most important," Morocco's France-born manager Walid Regragui said after the match, according to beIN Sports. "We had a few injuries which does not help us. But I have nothing to say because we gave the maximum."

They played their first five games without conceding a goal to the opposition, with the lone one conceded being an own goal. Both of the goals they gave up to France came off of unfortunate deflections, and there was little they could do about it. They gave powers like France, Spain and Portugal serious trouble in this tournament, won their group and won the hearts of many soccer fans all across the world. The sport is in a better place than it was before the tournament because of Morocco, showing once again that no matter the talent, size, or history of your country, you can always dream.

France weren't overly impressive 

This wasn't a game that France bossed, despite what you think the scoreline might take tell you. They deserved to win, don't get me wrong, but Morocco dictated the pace of the game with 61% possession and were just a couple key passes away from getting a goal. Of the eight shots Morocco had inside the box, just one went on frame as the victors closed down well when they needed to.

Credit has to go to France defensively though as the backline faced 13 shots, but there weren't many moments where it felt like Morocco would truly score despite some decent build-up play. 

In the end, in what was a physical game between two impressive teams, France did more than enough despite not seeing much of the ball. They'll be sore leading up to the final after receiving quite a few overly tough challenges, but they'll refuel, knowing on Sunday they can be the first team to repeat as World Cup champions since Brazil in 1962.

Will the gameplan look similar to when they face Argentina?

Argentina are going to want the ball as much as possible, and we may see them also go with five at the back like we did against the Netherlands. But sitting back to defend, then going on the counter in this one, could it be that France will try to replicate that gameplan? Having Morocco bombarding you in attack is much different than facing Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez, so it will be telling early on in the final just exactly how France will approach it. But, to their credit, they've looked sharp no matter what the style. 

The important thing will be to, like in this game, be a bit smarter when they challenge, especially in the box after giving up two penalties to England in the quarterfinals.

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France reach the final!

It is all over in Al Khor. The French have done it and reached a second straight final! Hernandez and Kolo Muani's goals have downed the unlucky Moroccans 2-0. Mbappe will meet Messi at the weekend and Les Bleus could be just the third team to defend their world title.

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France keep Morocco out!

Incredibly, the French still have not conceded to this Moroccan side. Jules Kounde with a late block just as it looked as if Hugo Lloris might be beaten.

 
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The dagger for Morocco

So soon after Hamdallah tried to walk it in Mbappe attempts something similar but this time he gets a shot away, the ball breaking loose for Kolo Muani to kill off this game. And that really is the difference between these two. For all their excellent play Morocco have not really made good opportunities from their best moments. France have had far fewer of them but they turned them into an awful lot.

December 14, 2022, 8:41 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 3:41 pm EST
 
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France 2-0 Morocco

It appears that it might have been! Randal Kolo Muani scores moments after being sent on and surely that kills this one off. Literally the Eintracht Frankfurt man's first touch of the game. Great work by Kylian Mbappe in the build-up. Harsh on Morocco, but killer instincts from the French.

 
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Was that the moment?

More great pressure from Morocco, who win the ball back in the French half, and the substitute Hamdallah is carrying it into the penalty area. He beats one, he beats another. Just hit it! He won't. He tries to steer away from Kounde but runs at him. Even then there is a moment where all he needs to do is swing a boot at it... But he won't. France survive.

December 14, 2022, 8:35 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 3:35 pm EST
 
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Varane's verve

It has not always been clear during this World Cup as France are yet to keep a clean sheet, but Raphael Varane has been increasingly good in the knockout phase. Not quite his 2018 best, but certainly much better than Manchester United fans will have seen so far at Old Trafford. Like Antoine Griezmann, Didier Deschamps has managed to finally get a tune out of another of his key men.

 
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France still pinned back

To give you a sense of how pinned back France are, Griezmann has now had as many touches in the French penalty area as he has had in the Moroccan at two apiece. It is all hands on decks so far.

December 14, 2022, 8:24 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 3:24 pm EST
 
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French flustered

Many up in arms over Amrabat's challenge on Mbappe. However, they would be well advised to recall the official's generosity in the first half when Hernandez could have conceded a penalty.

 
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All Morocco

The French have been blown off course by the pressure from the trailing side so far in this half. Both full backs are letting their runners in behind all too often as their opponent drop deeper and deeper, Ounahi causing all sorts of trouble in particular. However for now at least the killer shot hasn't come from Morocco but it would not shock you in the slightest if it did.

December 14, 2022, 8:14 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 3:14 pm EST
 
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Second half underway

And it's another change for Morocco, the third of the players who were injury doubts for today's game exiting the contest. Mazraoui comes off and in his place comes Attiat-Allah.

December 14, 2022, 8:05 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 3:05 pm EST
 
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France relieved for the break

Les Bleus lead at the half, but it was all hands to the pump moments ago. The French lead by one goal, but this is far from over -- as Morocco have already shown. The opening 15 minutes of the second half could be key with the Atlas Lions likely to throw everything they can at France. It feels like the second goal will decide whether this one goes beyond 90 and it could well be a Moroccan goal based on the past 10-15 minutes.

 
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Half time - France lead 1-0

Les Bleus are bound for the final at the break but they ended the half truly on the back foot. If the second half continues as the first ends then it may only be a matter of time before we're all square.

December 14, 2022, 7:51 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:51 pm EST
 
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What a chance for Morocco!

Konate is doing stirring work for France just keeping Morocco at bay when they puncture Hernandez's flank at will. A brilliant diving tackle by the Liverpool defender forces a corner when Hakimi gets in a crossing position in the box. Ziyech's delivery is a good one and the clearing header at the near post only comes as far as El Yamiq. With his back to goal he tries the acrobatic bicycle kick and hits it so well, a combination of Lloris and the French post denying Morocco an equaliser.

They get another corner from that same flank soon after, this time Lloris does well to beat Hakimi to the cross and clutches it to his chest.

December 14, 2022, 7:46 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:46 pm EST
 
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Tight encounter

Every bit as close as we initially expected after the goal. Morocco shaken due to their forced changes, but are showing admirable spirit. France turning up the pressure a little of late, but certainly look like they will need at least a second goal at this rate. Mbappe denied after getting in behind before Giroud lazily fires wide from the follow-up opening.

 
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Hernandez the weak spot

The goalscorer is having all sorts of difficulties at left back, he's beaten all too easily by the combination of Ziyech and Hakimi but scrabbles back towards the ball as it breaks into the penalty area. He throws a boot at it as Boufal chases possession too. The Morocco forward goes sprawling and the referee gives... a France free kick? And a yellow card to Boufal? That is a very curious decision. Another referee could easily have given a penalty against Hernandez there.

December 14, 2022, 7:31 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:31 pm EST
 
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An early change for Morocco

The defense that took Morocco so far is falling apart at the Al Bayt Stadium. Aguerd couldn't start and the injury that plagued Saiss in the warm up clearly did not ease, evident when he was totally done by Giroud chasing that bouncing ball over the top. The former Wolves man is replaced by Amallah and Morocco switch to a back four.

December 14, 2022, 7:24 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:24 pm EST
 
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Giroud off the post!

Having seen changes forced before a ball was even kicked, an early goal was exactly what Les Bleus will have wanted to have Morocco on the ropes. Giroud now hits the post after getting on the end of a ball over the top. Lloris also looking assured on his 19th World Cup outing which is reassuring for Deschamps.

 
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Now we see what Morocco are made of

Having conceded their first goal to an opponent in this tournament we're going to see a different version of the Atlas Lions but their response to the early setback has been rather impressive. They know what the French weak point is and they fully intend to exploit it, committing Ziyech and Hakimi high up the pitch to test goalscorer Hernandez. Ounahi, meanwhile, has drawn a save from Lloris by darting into the space between the French midfield and defense. It feels like there's something here for them.

December 14, 2022, 7:14 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:14 pm EST
 
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Morocco will be kicking themselves

For the first time in the knockout rounds, Morocco's defense lets them down. It's a lovely through ball from Varane to Griezmann but a slip from El Yamiq, who has gone too far forward to try to win the ball, sets the Moroccan defense into scramble mode. They're a little too late to every loose ball, too many dashing to Mbappe to block his shot and no one seemingly ready to block the ball if it deflected into Hernandez's path. That'll make things extremely difficult for Morocco against a France team perfectly happy to play on the counter.

December 14, 2022, 7:07 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:07 pm EST
 
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France 1-0 Morocco!

Hernandez opens the scoring inside the opening few minutes! Griezmann feeds mbappe who is snuffed out, but the ball pops up to Hernandez who finishes on the stretch. Morocco's famed defensive frugality broken already. Not the start the Atlas Lions had in mind.

 
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Kick off... but there's a change

We're up and running in the semi final! Not for the first time this tournament Morocco have pulled a surprise with a defender dropping out of the backline, not Saiss however. Aguerd, who had missed the last game, Dari taking his place.

December 14, 2022, 7:01 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 2:01 pm EST
 
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Fighting talk

"The further we come, the harder the games are," said head coach Walid Regragui on Tuesday. "We will be up against the world champions with a top level coach -- the best in the world. We will continue to do what we know best and aim to pull off a surprise. We are here to change our continent's mentality. If we are happy to be in the semifinals then I am not happy -- I want to reach the final. I hope that France do not respect us as that will make things difficult."

"We will do our best to find a way through, but it is a fact -- this team defends very well and not everybody has been able to find a solution," said head coach Didier Deschamps in the pre-match press conference. "That is not to take away from their defensive quality as they are well-organized with players who can defend well. For me, objectives do not change from one game to the next -- we always want to have the ball and to be dangerous and score. Before or after a match, despite any history and passion, I like my players to know their place as I expect the same of myself."

"Brazil were the best team in this World Cup and they are out," added Regragui. "They will not even play the semis. We are hungry, of course, but we must be strong to advance. We are confident and not tired. Perhaps we are crazy, we will see. It is extraordinary how possession of the ball obsesses you. Around 70% of the ball just to shoot twice? Also, the 'we should have won because we had four expected goals?' We are here to win and that is all. Pep Guardiola drove me crazy too, but of course you see a lot of the ball with Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva. France made me dream with their style in 2018 -- Didier Deschamps understood what had to be done. We must stop with the statistics. I will ask Gianni Infantino if he is adding points for anything above 60% possession."

"I possess dual nationality," he said. "It is an honor and a pleasure to come up against France. It is only soccer, though. Whether it is against the French or against Brazil, all I want to do is qualify. I am interested in winning and having the best team. We want to reach the final and to win it. We are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve that aim. We will show extraordinary energy. To say that we are satisfied to reach the semis does us a disservice. It might be our only chance to win."

 
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A late worry for Morocco

It appears that Romain Saiss has left the Morocco warmups, his place taken by Badr Benoun. We might be going right to the wire before we find out who is starting for the Atlas Lions.

December 14, 2022, 6:43 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 1:43 pm EST
 
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Keep an eye on

Despite Morocco's Cinderella-like run to these semifinals, our experts are predicting that it comes to an end here against the reigning world champions France...

One matchup to watch: Aurelien Tchouameni scored a stunning opening goal against the Three Lions last Saturday and the Real Madrid man will be needed if France are to win the battle the midfields in Al Khor. Aided by Adrien Rabiot, the 22-year-old has fared very well so far in Qatar and now faces arguably his toughest challenge yet with the in-form Sofyan Amrabat. Azzedine Ounahi has also been outstanding for the Moroccans, but Amrabat vs. Tchouameni is arguably the showdown encounter here.

Most likely to score a goal: After he was shackled against England, Kylian Mbappe will be keen to make up for lost time and to add to his five-goal haul in this tournament. The Paris Saint-Germain superstar will be up against club teammate Achraf Hakimi on Wednesday and may well get a few chances given how Hakimi likes to get forward which leaves space. Olivier Giroud and Youssef En Nesyri are both solid bets, but Mbappe is the favorite to score at least once.

Man of the Match pick: Considering his creativity for France of late, Antoine Griezmann is a good shout given that so much flows through him. Amrabat and Ounahi have been joined by Romain Saiss and Sofiane Boufal in performing extremely well this winter and it could be that French captain Hugo Lloris is required to put in a big performance between the sticks to keep Les Bleus' clean sheet intact.

 
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An historic day

It is said that 20,000 Moroccan fans were in Doha today to cheer on their team. Back home newspaper Le Matin says: "The Atlas Lions are determined to honour their appointment with history." State broadcaster al-Aoula had dropped all of its planned programming after the win over Portugal to show the celebrations. Imagine what it could be like today if Morocco win again!

December 14, 2022, 6:11 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 1:11 pm EST
 
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Mbappe vs. Hakimi

"You can be friends away from the field," said captain Hugo Lloris of French superstar Kylian Mbappe and PSG teammate Achraf Hakimi's closeness. "Once you represent your country at a World Cup, though, your competitive spirit takes over. We can only respect and admire their journey to this point. For a team to eliminate Belgium, Spain, and Portugal at this level -- there are qualities in terms of team chemistry and understanding. There will be a hostile atmosphere in the stadium, but we are ready for it. I believe that the coach has enormous experience as both a player and now as a coach. He instils calm and also inspires us -- there is a real relationship built upon trust with him. If you remain head coach for so long for a nation like France, it is because there are many qualities."

"Achraf knows Mbappe better than I do," admitted Moroccan boss Walid Regragui when asked about the French superstar. "We will not make an anti-Mbappe plan as he is not the only threat -- especially when you look at what Griezmann is doing between the lines. Achraf is a great champion, though, so I have no worries. We have many injuries but those players are recovering well. Our medical staff is of a high level. For now, nobody is out and nobody is in. We will leave it as long as possible before making a call."

 
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A double boost for Morocco

Whilst France have been handed a headache with those Rabiot and Upamecano issues it's great news for Regragui, who welcomes Aguerd and Mazraoui into the side after late fitness tests. The presence of those two allows him to switch to a back five that may not be designed to counter Mbappe but instead to limit how much work they need to do on one player. It's fair to assume that without the ball Hakimi will drop back and double up with his center back to deal with Mbappe (and when the ball is on the opposite flank Mazraoui could do the same for Dembele).

It also may prove to be a rather effective change to get two of Morocco's most talented players up the pitch from full back spots. Hakimi and Ziyech attacking on one side, Mazraoui and Boufal on the other? If Regragui is tempted to push his side up the pitch (not exactly their modus operandi so far when it comes to stunning the big teams) then there is a lot of damage that can be done to a French full back corps that looked rather underwhelming against England.

December 14, 2022, 5:53 PM
Dec. 14, 2022, 12:53 pm EST
 
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France vs. Morocco starting XIs

Here are your starting lineups from Al Khor... Illness has forced Didier Deschamps to replace Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano while Walid Regragui has opted for a 5-4-1 with captain Romain Saiss and fellow defenders Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui passed fit to start.

France: Lloris (c); Kounde, Varane, Konate, Hernandez; Tchouameni, Fofana; Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe; Giroud.

Morocco: Bounou; Hakimi, El Yamiq, Saiss (c), Aguerd, Mazraoui; Ziyech, Ounahi, Amrabat, Boufal; En-Nesyri.

 
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How to watch France vs. Morocco

  • Date: Wednesday, Dec. 14 | Time: 2 p.m. ET
  • Location: Al Bayt Stadium -- Al Khor, Qatar
  • TV: Fox and Telemundo | Live stream: fuboTV (try for free)
 
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BREAKING

France coach Didier Deschamps has been forced into two changes to his starting XI for the FIFA 2022 World Cup semifinal vs. Morocco. According to L'Equipe and other French outlets, Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano have been ill and are not fit enough to start at Al Bayt Stadium. Bayern Munich defender Upamecano and Juventus midfielder Rabiot are said to have been suffering from flu symptoms since Tuesday. 

Ibrahima Konate is expected to deputize for Upamecano with Youssouf Fofana set to come in and take Rabiot's place. The Liverpool man started alongside Upamecano for the 4-1 win over Australia before Raphael Varane recovered to take his place. The AS Monaco star came in for the 1-0 loss to Tunisia which Konate also featured in and Fofana, in particular, struggled.

Expected France XI vs. Morocco: Lloris (c); Kounde, Varane, Konate, Hernandez; Fofana, Tchouameni; Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe; Giroud.

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