For the Frenchmen now contemplating a second successive World Cup, and of course their great star Kylian Mbappe, a place among the greats beckons: only 21 men in history have won it more than once, and only four of them were European.
Sunday’s final will no doubt be viewed in some quarters as Mbappe against Lionel Messi, and what it means for their respective places in the great canon of the game. For Mbappe to be a double World Cup winner at the age of 23 would mean only Pele, the one man to have won the World Cup three times, would stand above him. For Messi, at 35, it means something different and defeating the defending champions would be his crowning glory.
This France team have not blinked in the toughest moments in this competition, either at the Al Bayt Stadium four days earlier in their quarter-final win over England or now against the Atlas Lions whose fans filled the stadium in the desert. Illness had denied Deschamps’ two key players in Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano but this squad of Les Bleus runs deep and it was eventually the substitute Randal Kolo Muani who scored the second, his first international goal on his fourth cap.
A hard night for Morocco who fought valiantly despite their plans being turned upside down by the fifth minute French goal, brilliantly taken by the full-back Theo Hernandez. They had to adapt from their patient plan to repel France and by the second half were obliged to go on the front foot. They did so boldly, seizing the chance of a lifetime with 51 per cent possession to France’s 34. At full-time they toppled almost to a man to the ground and many of their opponents first went among them to offer condolences.
Follow reaction below
Table of Contents
Some French headlines
Le Parisien: The Blues in the final, a delicious habit.
Le Monde goes meat and two veg, as is the internet requirement: The Blues put an end to the Atlas Lions’ adventure and go to the final.
L’Equipe: We’re going back
Le Figaro: Blues have an appointment with destiny
All hail Morocco
They drew with Croatia, who they will play again on Saturday, beat Belgium, Canada and Portugal, and also knocked Spain out on penalties. They’re the first African side to make the World Cup semi-final* and the astute tactics of their manager has shone a spotlight on the industrious, resilient and skilful Ounahi, Amrabat and En-Nesyri to go with their established stars, Ziyech, Hakimi and Mazaraoui.
Here’s Jason Burt’s take on tonight and their tournament:
The tackle that summed up Morocco’s astonishing tournament
* Turkey in 2002 were the first side from a majority Muslim country.
Randal Kolo Muani after his goal
A priceless expression:
Mbappe and Hakimi, the enduring friendship
France v Argentina head to head at the World Cup
Played three: Argentina two (1-0 in 1930 and 2-1 en route to their first World Cup victory in 1978); France one (2018, 4-3).
A great show of warmth between the two sides
Walid Regragui, who was born in Paris and played in Ligue 1, is embraced by Didi Deschamps and Olivier Giroud.
Morocco play Croatia on Saturday
In the third/fourth play-off, plate final.
Poor Hamdallah, so close and yet …
Full-time: France 2 Morocco 0
Peep! x three on the Acme Thunderer. France prevail after a wonderful ding dong match. Had Morocco been as clinical as France, they may well have won.
The tiny enclave of France supporters in an ocean of red and green are celebrating the world champions’ return to the World Cup final.
90+6 min France 2 Morocco 0
Ezzalzouli hares down the left, gets to the byline with dazzling feet, beating Varane and then pulls the ball back to Ounahi who tees up a shot at the second attempt but drags it to the left from 12 yards. Hamdallah sticks out a leg to divert it towards goal and Kounde blocks it centimetres in front of the line.
90+4 min France 2 Morocco 0
Ounahi thumps a goalbound shot that is deflected out for a corner.
90+3 min France 2 Morocco 0
Mbappe sends Amrabat off to buy a bag of chips, drops his shoulder, megs him and burns past. Hakimi saves the day by not buying his mate’s attempt to diddle him and whisks the ball away.
90+1 min France 2 Morocco 0
Thuram refuses to give the ball back, ruffling a few Moroccan feathers, when he is penalised.
89 min France 2 Morocco 0
Aboukhlal fizzes a low daisycutter at Lloris but was offside.
Six minutes of stoppage time to come.
87 min France 2 Morocco 0
A few tears in the crowd. i don’t know why. They have shivered France’s timbers and played very well. Plenty to shout about not weep about.
85 min France 2 Morocco 0
Ziyech, who has played well but lacked a killer ball, is shepherded out of play by Thuram.
Jason Burt reports from Al Bayt
France’s second goal has taken a little air out of the incredibly passionate Moroccan fans. It owed everything to Kylian Mbappe’s quick feet – and a slice of luck as his shot deflected into the path of substitute Randal Kolo Muani. Morocco will feel incredibly hard done by. It has been a brilliant effort by them summed up by that fantastic tackle on Mbappe by Sofyan Amrabat. But they finally look beaten.
82 min France 2 Morocco 0
Looking at the goal again, Mbappe went for the shot rather than a cross. No matter. Morocco have a free-kick on the right which inspires some proper handbags in the box. Griezmann heads it clear after the ref sorts out the argy-bargy.
France 2 Morocco 0 (Kolo Muani) Scores with his first touch. Mbappe dribbles into the box from the left, he shimmies to the left, darts to the right and tries to lace a pass to the right of the box. His intention is good but he is helped by a deflection off Dari’s heel that leaves Kolo Muani with a right-foot tap in at the far post from three yards.
78 min France 1 Morocco 0
More changes: Kolo Muani for France and Dembele; Ezzalzouli for Amallah.
76 min France 1 Morocco 0
Hamdallah goes on a Ricky Villa slaloming run into the box, beating Kounde and Tchouameni but then tries to diddle Kounde again and cut back on to his left but messes it up. Had to shoot. What a waste.
74 min France 1 Morocco 0
Griezmann’s back in there again, on the edge of his D, intercepting a pass before Amallah can get on the end of it to shoot. It’s not quite Messi playing as a Mascherano but it’s not far short.
72 min France 1 Morocco 0
Griezmann hangs up a cross from the free-kick and arcs it perfectly on to Thuram’s head but he cannot emulate Papa Lilian and score in a World Cup semi-final. The ‘Gladbach forward heads it wide.
70 min France 1 Morocco 0
Dari shoves over Thuram from the side after deciding, correctly, that he had no chance of catching him after a mistake by Amallah. Should have had a yellow card but it stays pocketed.
68 min France 1 Morocco 0
Daft foul by Hakimi on Thuram gives Griezmann a free-kick on the left which he feeds to Mbappe on the right of the box. He shoots into a thicket of defenders’ shins.
66 min France 1 Morocco 0
Double Morocco substitution: Aboukhlal and Hamdallah come on for En-Nesyri and Boufal. Aboukhlal almost immediately runs into the box and tries to get on the end of Attiyat Allah’s cross but Lloris gets there first and he may well have been offside.
64 min France 1 Morocco 0
France substitution: Marcus Thuram replaces Giroud. He goes to the left Mbappe moves inside.
62 min France 1 Morocco 0
Diego Simeone may be deploying Antoine Griezmann as a six after another shrewd interception in his own box stops Boufal’s cross, having twisted Hernandez’s blood down the right.
Morocco have rattled France far more than England did with their relentless targeting of the left-back.
59 min France 1 Morocco 0
Extremely late offside flag when Mbappe was miles off on the left wastes 15 seconds.
Ziyech knows he’s got Hernandez in his pocket but can’t find the clinical element that turns a roasting into an assist.
57 min France 1 Morocco 0
Mbappe is OK by the way but then takes another knock on his left boot which means he has to replace it. Ounahi and Ziyech have Hernandez on toast but Griezmann has smelt the danger and drops back to help out.
54 min France 1 Morocco 0
Two Morocco chances within 45 seconds, Boufal scorching down the right, beating Hernandez and Fofana before dinking a cross towards the six-yard box to meet El-Nesyri’s run. Any contact and it’s a goal but Konate is there with Lloris to beat him to it. Seconds later Allah twists his way back in down the left but the cross, when it comes, is dealt with brilliantly by Konate.
52 min France 1 Morocco 0
The ball from the blocked cross falls at Mbappe’s feet and he hares off up the touchline, leaving Amrabat in his wake and heads for the byline. But Amrabat finds a turbobooster of his own, catches Mbappe and wipes him out with a fair tackle that also involved him chopping him down with the sheer weight of the block tackle.
50 min France 1 Morocco 0
Hakimi and Ziyech both waste chances to find En-Nesyri with crosses from the right and then they link up with a slick move, play the one-two but Hakimi’s cross is blocked.
48 min France 1 Morocco 0
Hakimi dives rashly in to try to stop a pass reaching Mbappé and the France forward rolls his great friend and chassés down to the byline, with a jink followed by a turbo charge but his pull-back isn’t of the same quality.
46 min France 1 Morocco 0
Another gamble fails: Mazraoui, who was unfit for the quarter-final, has been replaced by Allah who deputised for him in the victory over Portugal.
A Paris en hiver
Security measures have been taken on Champs Elysees to try to prevent any trouble between rival fans during and after the semi-final:
Here’s El Yamiq’s effort from a different angle
Jason Burt reports from Al Bayt
Emmanuel Macron is one of the few French fans inside the stadium. The French president has flown in for this semi-final but the Al Bayt stadium is packed to the rafters with Moroccans. They are making an incredible noise – whistling every time France have possession and even resorting to the Iceland ‘thunder clap’ to get behind their team who have done well since conceding the early goal. Thousands more made the trek north from Doha even though they did not have tickets and are watching the match from the car parks and on big screens.
A very entertaining half and Morocco have kept Lloris very busy. One fears that they will leave one too many gaps, one too many times, but they are showing admirable, skill, guile and courage to give France a real test.
Half-time: France 1 Morocco 0
The half closes with three minutes of added time, a corner and a free-kick, whipped menacingly into the France box but the world champions manage to repel all thrusts though Tchouameni did have his arms wrapped around Amallah and hauled him down as he tried to reach one of them. ‘Not much in that,’ says Danny Murphy. Hmmm.
45 min France 1 Morocco 0
Ziyech takes the corner, whipping an inswinger to the near post. En-Nesyri meets it with Giroud who gets the better of it and heads it away from goal. It reaches El Yamiq, back to goal, 12 yards out to the left of the penalty area. The centre-half leaps back and meets it with a fine bicycle kick, volleying it towards the left of goal with just a soupçon of shin. Lloris dives and manages to tip it on to the post and away. What an effort. What a save.
43 min France 1 Morocco 0
Morocco open up France down the right of their box with a fine pass from Ounahi to Hakimi who seems at first, at least, not to believe he will get there. But then he spurts after it, beats Konate to it and the Liverpool centre-back has to slide in to send it behind for a corner.
40 min France 1 Morocco 0
Griezmann whips the low corner to the near post and Varane leathers it wide on the half-volley.
A reminder that the winners of this match will play Argentina in the final at Lusail on Sunday at 3pm.
39 min France 1 Morocco 0
Dembele, Tchouameni and Dembele work a lovely move with quick, angled passes to send Griezmann down the right of the box. But before he can shoot or cross, El YAmiq slides in to make the tackle and send it behind off Griezmann. The referee erroneously awards France a corner
37 min France 1 Morocco 0
Double chance for France after some poor play from Ziyech who needs to put in more of a defensive shift and look after the ball with more care. He loses out to Fofana who threads a pass between Hakimi and Dari for Mbappe. He cuts back on to his right and tries to bend his shot around the keeper but doesn’t strike it sweetly and Morocco manage to scramble it away … to Giroud 15 yards out but he flashes his left foot shot past the left post.
34 min France 1 Morocco 0
Fofana,feeding on scraps at the edge of the area, spins on to his winger and blazes a left-foot shot into orbit.
32 min France 1 Morocco 0
Mbappe pounces on Hernandez’s through ball and heads down the left before turning back and teeing up Tchouameni for a rasping shot that hits Giroud in the belly as he tried to retreat from an offside position.
29 min France 1 Morocco 0
Amrabat shoves Giroud over and the Milan striker gives him an old-fashioned wag of the index finger. ‘Non, non, non!’
27 min France 1 Morocco 0
Theo Hernandez makes a hash of it when attacked by Ziyech down the right, recovers to toe the ball away from the onrushing Boufal who is penalised for throwing himself on to the floor and requesting a penalty. Yellow card for simulation, which seems harsh as Hernandez and Boufal went knee to knee after Hernandez nipped the ball away.
24 min France 1 Morocco 0
Ziyech hits the deck when Konate tries to steal the ball by swinging a boot and connecting with Ziyech’s foot. Free-kick. Morocco go all the way back to El Yamiq to try to build something, which they eventually do up the right. Hakimi lets fly when he had time, shooting from 30 yards. The ball canons off Konate and France counter through Mbappe.
22 min France 1 Morocco 0
It’s been an admirable climb back from the canvas by Morocco. Amrabat and Ounahi look very fluent in midfield. But they need their full-backs to fly forward and without the extra centre-back, that could be expose the flanks to the vulpine Mbappe.
20 min France 1 Morocco 0
Saiss cannot continue on one leg. He hands the armband to Ziyech and goes off to be replaced by Amallah. Which means a switch to four at the back.
Here’s Lloris’s save from Ounahi:
18 min France 1 Morocco 0
France expose Saiss’s injured thigh with a chipped 60-yard mixer ball that goes over him. He can’t turn in time to stop Giroud galloping past him and thumping a left-foot shot into the heart of the left post with Buckaroo force.
16 min France 1 Morocco 0
Morocco are far from lying down, though. Boufal strides down the middle and releases the perfect pass to his right to Ziyech who takes it on with his right foot from 18 yards and slices it wide.
14 min France 1 Morocco 0
Theo Hernandez’s goal – after four minutes and 39 seconds – was the fastest in a World Cup semi-final since Vava netted in the second minute of Brazil’s 5-2 win against France in 1958.
12 min France 1 Morocco 0
Rate the players here at your leisure/discretion:
10 min France 1 Morocco 0
The marvellous Ounahi. 35 yards out, jinks, shimmies and then digs out a right-foot shot that dips alarmingly. Lloris does well to watch it all the way and cover the bounce with a string hand away.
8 min France 1 Morocco 0
That certainly silenced the crowd. Morocco were unfortunate in that El Yamiq slipped but the odds were against him getting there and he maybe should have played safe and gone to Griezmann.
Hakimi is robbed as he tries to raid down the right and the crowd goes spare, whistling like crazy. It’s like a Roger Whittaker convention.
France 1 Morocco 0 (Hernandez) Varane slides a 40 yard pass up the inside right. El Yamiq tries to cut it out, slips and Griezmann steals in. He centres to Mbappe who is closely marked by the spot. He shoots with his right and the ball is blocks straight back to him so he hits it again, trying to bend t in with his left but it deflects off Dari and Theo Hernandez, following in at the back post, hooks in a half-volley, the ball at about midriff height, swinging his left leg roundhouse style.
4 min France 0 Morocco 0
Amrabat, as he does throughout the tournament, mops up at the back after a sloppy pass allowed Griezmann a run.
Boos and whistles, sustained, greet France’s every touch.
Late team change for Morocco
Aguerd pulled out just before kick off. Achraf Dari replaces him at the back.
2 min France 0 Morocco 0
Boufal turns back from the congested wing and his pass is picked off by Griezmann. The stadium again erupts into boos as he shifts it up to Dembele but he can’t do anything with ot.
1 min France 0 Morocco 0
En-Nesyri kicks off for Morocco as the stadium erupts in a cacophony of noise after the countdown. He rolls it all the way back to Saiss and Morocco knock the ball about at the back until Boufal goes on a sally up the left.
France are in their home tricolor togs, Morocco in red and green (should never be seen, was the old adage – no more!)
The split of the fans
Even without the hundreds stranded by cancelled flights from Casablanca, is about 90-10 in Morocco’s favour. They’re not just belting out the anthem, but yelling it.
Out come the teams
And time for the national anthems. La Marseillaise first, followed by Cherifian.
Boots on the wrong feet?
Yassine Bounou AKA Bono has conceded one goal in open play and saved two (admittedly dreadful) penalties in the shootout victory over Spain.
Our pal from the England game is back
TBEN coverage begins (at last)
Haven’t been a fan of the theme music they’ve used for this tournament. Gary Lineker is presenting. Alan Shearer, who seemed to be having the time of his life on 5 Live last night, is among the pundits as they pay tribute to Morocco, ‘the Rocky Balboa’ of the World Cup.
Has an interesting story – he had been at Clairefontaine but did not make the grade at the national academy and it took him until the age of 18 to be given a second chance with Strasbourg reserves. Since forcing his way into the first team and signing professional he has moved to Monaco where last season he struck up a productive midfield partnership with … Aurelien Tchouameni.
Who is going through?
Predict the final score for France 2 Morocco 0 here:
Morocco have selected three centre-backs
So I’m guessing the line-ups and formations will be as follows:
France (4-3-3) Lloris; Kounde, Varane, Konate, Theo Hernandez; Tchouameni, Fofana, Griezmann; Dembele, Giroud, Mbappe.
Morocco (5-4-1) Bounou; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, El Yamiq, Mazraoui; Ziyech, Amrabat, Ounahi, Boufal; En-Nesyri.
Referee Cesar Ramos (Mexico)
Two changes for France
Fofana and Konate come in for Rabiot and Upamecano, both of whom were reported ‘ill’ yesterday:
Morocco’s first-choice defenders return
Not only Mazraoui and Saiss, but Aguerd as well. That’s a turn up …
His nibs has arrived
There was an interesting story on Marca last night which reported that Karim Benzema, who was ruled out of the tournament on the eve of its opening day with a torn left thigh muscle, returned to training with Real Madrid on Saturday. (Incidentally, Cristiano Ronaldo has also been training with Real Madrid this week). Marca and The Sun note that should France make it to Sunday’s final, because Benzema was not replaced in the France squad as Didier Deschamps decided to persevere with 25, he would be eligible to play … if required.
By Andrew Quinn
The first World Cup semi-final to ever involve an African team is nearly upon us, with Morocco facing its former coloniser France.
Morocco have exceeded all expectations this tournament, clinching their place in the semi-final with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Portugal. That was only the fourth time that an African team had reached the quarter-final of the tournament, after Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana.
Before their quarter-final victory, Morocco beat Spain on penalties after a 0-0 draw, which confirmed their best ever World Cup performance. In the group stage, Morocco drew with Croatia, before beating Belgium and Canada to progress to the knockout stages.
It could also be a historic game for France, as they aim to become only the fifth side to play in back-to-back World Cup finals. If they win the tournament, they would become the third team to clinch back-to-back titles. Italy won the tournament in 1934 and 1938, while Brazil did the same in 1958 and 1962.
They ground out a 2-1 win over England in the last match, with Olivier Giroud and Aurélien Tchouaméni scoring the goals. They saw off Poland relatively easily in the Round of 16 after losing to Tunisia in their final group match – although they did field a much-changed team. They had already beaten Australia and Denmark to reach the group stages.
The big concern for the North African side is the fitness of their defenders. West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd missed the Portugal game with a thigh injury and captain Romain Saiss, who joined Besiktas from Wolves in the summer, was forced off in the second half. Bayern Munich full-back Noussair Mazraoui also missed the quarter-final clash, but could be back in contention. Forward Walid Cheddira is suspended after he was sent off against Portugal.
For France, Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano and Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot are injury doubts. The pair only completed light training on Tuesday.