World Cup recap - France advance
Semi-Final two: France 2 - 0 Morocco
Moroccan fans will feel both heartache and pride as their team bravely bowed out to France in the World Cup Semi-Final this morning. Within five minutes of the match, France scored the first goal, and there was a sense that they could score many more. But the Moroccans fought back bravely and were the better side for most of the game, just unable to find the decisive goal that would have brought them back into the match.
In the end, France was just too good, with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann proving too much of a handful for the embattled Moroccan defence.
France now progresses to the final, where they will play against Lionel Messi’s Argentina for the World Cup trophy.
Morocco will still have a chance at history when they take on Croatia in the third-place playoff.
Should they win, Morocco would become the first African team to ever take their place on the podium of a World Cup. It would be a fitting end to the tournament for a team that has bravely represented their nation and their broader continent beyond.
Here are five things we learned from this morning’s game, plus a look ahead to the final two remaining matches of the World Cup in 2022.
Five Things We Learned
Morocco Is Deservedly the Pride of Africa After Gallant Defeat
Martin Tyler said it perfectly on commentary when a picture of a teary Moroccan fan appeared on the screen. “They will be tears of pain, but not tears of shame.”
That is how fans of Morocco will feel after their team performed admirably in the World Cup Semi-Final against the ruthlessly efficient reigning World Champions.
Morocco was the better team for large parts of the game against France, but couldn’t convert their control on the ball into an equalising goal. They enjoyed 62% of possession throughout the match and created 13 shots on goal but just couldn’t find the back of the French net.
The difference in the game turned out to be Kylian Mbappe, whose evasiveness in the box was instrumental in both the French goals. Mbappe zigged and zagged his way around flailing Moroccan legs on both occasions France scored, managing to clear the ball via a deflected shot to another of his teammates, who duly slotted the ball home.
The first goal came within the first 6 minutes of the game, and there was a feeling from that point that France would open up Morocco and run away with the win.
When Theo Hernandez scored France’s first goal, it was the first time Morocco had conceded a goal off the boot of an opposition player for the whole tournament, with their previous goal coming by way of an own goal.
It was the first time an African team had ever qualified for the semi-final of a World Cup, and any question of whether the occasion would overawe Morocco vanished quickly as it became clear the Moroccans weren’t ready to lie down just yet.
When Morocco substituted their captain Romain Saïss, who had clearly carried an injury into the game, they shifted to a more attacking formation, which allowed the Moroccans to cause more problems for the French defence.
Although they are now consigned to the third-place playoff against Croatia, Moroccans and other African people can feel proud of how the Atlas Lions represented them against the reigning World Champions.
With a bit of luck, Morocco could easily have had several goals today. If their supporters are feeling deflated by the end result of today’s game, they should at least be proud of the way Morocco played in the face of what must have felt like immense pressure being the first African team in a World Cup Semi-Final.
Thinking back to all the great African players who played the game and never made it to a World Cup Semi-Final, I hope that Morocco can provide a platform for other African countries to be inspired by. Hopefully, this example of an African team appearing so late in the tournament can springboard the success of other African teams into the future.
The number of African teams will increase at the next World Cup as the tournament shifts to a 48-team model. With Morocco’s performance at this World Cup, all those African teams who play in the 2026 tournament will have a shining example of how far African teams can go in the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.
World Cup Final Sets Up For Famous Contest Between Messi and Mbappe
As the world’s football fans look ahead to the World Cup Final, one narrative will dominate all others as the prospect of Kylian Mbappe facing off against club teammate Lionel Messi has now eventuated.
It’s hard to understate this game's potential significance in football’s lore for years to come.
If Lionel Messi wins, he will step out from the shadow of Argentinian great Diego Maradona and take his place beside him as his equal. There has always been a sense that without a World Cup, Messi will never reach the same heights as Maradona, but he can fill that void in his otherwise complete career by beating France in the final.
Mbappe, on the other hand, is at a much different stage of his career. If he’s to win the game against Argentina on Monday, he will have two World Cups by the age of 21, having been instrumental in both of them. Only the great Pelé can compete with those sorts of numbers.
With how young France’s squad is, there is every possibility that Mbappe will be challenging for World Cups right throughout his career, and if he’s able to maintain the trajectory he’s on, we will be speaking with Mbappe in the same regard as his Argentinian counterpart.
Brazilian legend Pelé famously played in 4 World Cups, winning three. Mbappe is the only player since Pelé who has any chance of equalling the Great Man’s tally.
If Mbappe wants to be regarded on the same level as Pelé, who is in many ways without peer, he will want to win the game against Argentina on Monday.
Although both Messi and Mbappe are likely to feature prominently in the annals of football history, pub debates all around the world will likely cite this game to affirm their arguments for whichever player they think deserves to be considered the greatest ever.
It’s a debate that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, in my opinion, but fans of either Messi or Mbappe will feel that their preferred hero will go one-up on their adversary if they can lead their team to victory in the final.
French Manager Didier Deschamps Is Doing Well To Compensate For A Midfield Deficit
If you were watching the game between France and Morocco without knowing which team was which, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was, in fact, France who were the underdogs in the game. It looked at times that the team in blue were the ones representing their Confederation in a World Cup Semi-Final for the first time.
For large parts of the game, Morocco was the team controlling the ball and asking questions of the French defence, resigning the reigning World Champions to the counter-attack.
However, as the game drew to a close, there was a sense that this didn’t worry the French enough to cause real alarm that a serious upset was on the cards.
It seemed strange at times how easily Morocco seemed to take the ball into dangerous areas within the French half, but by way of their early goal, France was able to commit numbers behind the ball and ensure they had the requisite defensive resources to stave off the flurry of Moroccan attacks.
The other aspect of France’s counter-attack was the fact that they had Kylian Mbappe helping them carry the ball forward.
Whenever Mbappe entered a dangerous area of the pitch, you could see the Moroccan defenders become extra aware of his presence and would often leave their position to support their teammate trying to cover Mbappe.
It allowed extra space in the Moroccan penalty area that the French could exploit for both of their goals, albeit via heavy deflections that aided them greatly.
Mbappe’s ability to draw defenders out of position meant that France didn’t require as much personnel to support their method of attack, and they could leave players behind the ball ready to get back in defensive cover.
It was a brilliant move by Dechamps, who would have been bitterly disappointed to lose midfielders N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba before the tournament. Both were instrumental in France’s 2018 World Cup triumph, and their absences have been conspicuous throughout the tournament so far.
However, that’s why it’s been such good management by Deschamps to set up his team to exploit their opposition on the counter-attack.
I have to wonder how many managers would have been happy with their team, the reigning World Champions, ceding 62% of possession to Morocco, a team with no experience playing at this stage of the tournament. Still, Deschamps was able to find a solution for his team’s deficit in possession, and France found a way to win the game.
It will be fascinating to see how the final plays out, with Argentina also showing their preference for counter-attacking football in their win against Croatia.
It seems from this morning’s game, though, that the French be too worried if Argentina is able to control most of the ball.
Morocco Struggle With That Age-Old Question, Do You Take Injured Players Into Big Games?
It’s a question that seems to come up nearly every year around AFL Grand Final time. Should you take your best players into big games, even though they’re injured?
Morocco may feel that they made the wrong choice this morning after captain Romain Saïss came off injured only 26 minutes into the game against France.
Saïss has been an admirable leader for Morocco throughout this World Cup, leading his team’s defence to concede only a single goal before the semi-final. When Saïss came off the field, and it was apparent he was injured, it was hard not to think back to the French goal and wonder whether the defender’s mobility issues at least indirectly contributed to the opponent’s opportunity to score.
The goal was the result of French defender Theo Hernandez finding seemingly acres of space in the Moroccan penalty area. It was as if one of the Moroccan defenders felt they had to come across and leave their position to cover the centre of the goal, where Saïss was responsible for defending.
Of course, the fact that Kylian Mbappe was weaving his way around the Moroccan area could have just as easily contributed to the Moroccan defenders leaving their position, but when Saïss came only halfway into the first stanza, it was clear that his mobility issues were affecting his ability to defend.
It’s a sad end for someone who has led his country so well throughout this World Cup. With only one game to go, there is a slight chance Moroccan manager Walid Regragui will risk playing his captain in the hope that he gets through one more game, but I would be surprised to see Saïss play for Morocco in the third-place playoff.
Hopefully, his teammates can get him the win and reward his leadership, which has served Morocco so well throughout this tournament.
Antoine Griezmann Has Been An Unsung Hero At This World Cup
It’s easy to understand why Kylian Mbappe has drawn the most attention when it comes to French players at this year’s World Cup. Mbappe is the equal leader in the Golden Boot award for the most goals in the tournament, level with Lionel Messi on five goals, which have included several stunning solo efforts.
However, one other player that’s been pivotal to French success so far in this World Cup, particularly in their last two games, is Antoine Griezmann.
In Qatar, the Athletico Madrid winger has somewhat reinvented himself playing more of a midfield role in this French team.
Griezmann has been somewhat maligned in recent years after a high-profile move to Barcelona ended up costing the club tens of millions of euros when he was sold at a loss a short time later.
Since returning to Athletico Madrid, Griezmann has been unable to recreate the form that saw him become one of the most high-profile attackers in the world for a short time.
At this World Cup, though, Griezmann has played a role that’s been higher up the pitch, allowing him to use his pinpoint passing accuracy to pick out teammates from wide positions whilst also getting back and supporting his teammates more in defence. It’s an unfamiliar role for Griezmann, who has spent most of his career playing a more attacking, more likely to be on the end of a teammate's cross than the one putting the ball in himself.
Griezmann’s reinvention as a midfielder has been a large part of the reason France has done so well despite injuries to some of its biggest midfield stars.
If France is to win the World Cup against Argentina on Monday, they will need him to continue his rise in form because the Argentinians are likely to be awake to Griezmann’s danger playing in his new role. It will be fascinating to see whether Argentinian manager Lionel Scaloni will develop a specific plan to target Griezmann or whether he feels that his capable and experienced midfielders can go toe-to-toe with Griezmann and exploit his inexperience in his new role.
Third Place Playoff
Sunday 6am AEDT - CROATIA v MOROCCO
It will be a case of beginning where they started for both these teams when Croatia and Morocco playoff for the third-place at this year’s World Cup.
23 days ago, these teams played out a goalless draw in what was each their first game at this year’s World Cup. Now, having achieved so much for their respective nations in the weeks since, they meet again for their last match.
Like with the first game of the competition, it will likely be a tight, tense affair when these two teams face each other again for the second time in a month. Although both Morocco and Croatia will have no doubt come a long way throughout this World Cup in terms of team cohesion and identifying avenues to goal, both these teams have been led admirably by their defence so far throughout this World Cup.
It’s hard to know how much petrol will be left in the tank, so to speak, when these teams play in a third-place playoff, but they will both likely struggle to break open their opposition if their tournaments so far are anything to go by.
That’s not to say that it’s not likely to be an exciting game. Morocco showed in their semi-final loss to France that they belong at this level, and they will be hungry to bring a third-place medal back to Africa for the first time.
Croatia will want to farewell superstar midfielder Luka Modrić in the best possible way and will feel that at their best, they have the talent to beat Morocco. But talent doesn’t win games unless you can convert it to goals on the scoreboard and Croatia will need to bounce back after a relatively lacklustre performance against Argentina in the semi-final.
It will be interesting to see how much energy each team has to give in their final game. They could each be forgiven for experiencing mental, physical and emotional fatigue at this late stage of the tournament, but both managers will want to inspire their teams to be at their best and bring a bronze medal back to their respective countries.
These teams have performed incredibly well this World Cup, considering neither has the resources or population to match many of their opponents. Still, they will want to bring a medal home to their supporters so they have something to show for what has been a brilliant World Cup for both Croatia and Morocco.
Monday 6am AEDT - ARGENTINA v FRANCE
It goes without saying that both these teams have it all to play for. France could become the first back-to-back World Cup winners since Pelé’s Brazil in 1962. Argentina could win their first World Cup since Diego Maradona lifted the trophy in 1986. For the winners, eternal glory awaits them back in their home country, for the losers, absolute anguish at the thought of coming so close to sport’s greatest prize.
With that being said, without wanting to trivialise the importance of what’s on the line for both these collective teams, it’s hard not to ignore the prospect of Mbappe vs. Messi and the individual battle that will take place when France face on Argentina on Monday morning Australia time.
The competition’s equal joint top-scorers stand above all others regarding how well they’ve led their teams at this World Cup. Messi and Mbappe are likely the two clear front-runners for the tournament’s Golden Ball, awarded to the best player, and this is the game that will decide who wins the award.
Plus, with Messi and Mbappe playing for the same club side, Paris Saint-Germain, it’s hard to see how one of these two players won’t win next year’s Ballon d’Or. The only real separator for that award would be whoever can lead their team to World Cup glory.
These are just some of the many storylines that will be running through the game when these teams face off. It’s likely that this game will be spoken about for years to come and it’s hard to think of a game that’s been so hyped in recent times.
Both teams will be desperate to write their name into World Cup and indeed, sporting folklore.
They will know that they are now potentially 90 minutes away from doing so.
The last time these two teams met, at the 2018 World Cup, they played out a 4 - 3 thriller that included a goal from French defender Benjamin Pavard that was subsequently awarded the goal of the tournament.
IF that match is anything to go by, with so much more riding on this game, both for the collective teams and individually for two of the game's greats, it promises to be an absolute contest for the ages.