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France make it back-to-back World Cup Finals after Morocco win

In the end, the class told. France were often not the better, sometimes a little lucky and, yet, rarely troubled. They eased past Morocco, scoring one early and one late to defeat the tournament surprise package 2-0 at the Al-Bayt Stadium.

For all the star names on display, this was again a performance built, first and foremost, on solidity and the ability to defend as a whole. When you have the attacking talent that France have, you can attack as individuals. The goals, both owing plenty to the threat of Kylian Mbappe, were a little scrappy, but they all count.

The goalscorers were unlikely – Theo Hernandez found himself miles up the pitch from left-back and Randal Kolo Muani had been on the pitch less than 60 seconds – but the method was similar. Mbappe, even when he doesn’t score, causes such panic that other men end up free.

They now face Argentina, Lionel Messi and the weight of history. If France thought the world wanted them to lose in this match, wait until Sunday night.

Morocco’s dream dies at the semi-final stage, and they will leave with history made and plenty of admirers gained. The first African side to make the last four did not die wondering, and on other occasions, against other teams, might have garnered more success.

The tactics of their manager Walid Regargui, basically worked: the Atlas Lions were largely able to keep France at arm’s length and still threatened on the break. For the first time, Morocco actually dominated the ball. They just met a team just as solid at the back and with even better talent going the other way.

The intention of Regragui would have been to shut up shop early on, but that was spectacularly thrown out of the window within the first five minutes.

Given that Morocco had conceded just once – and that an own goal – in his entire reign as coach, one would have expected that it would require a piece of magic to open the scoring, but instead, it was remarkably simple.

Antoine Griezmann stole in down the right, picked out Mbappe in the box and, while he was swarmed by as many as seven defenders, his shot ricocheted to left-back Hernandez to volley home. The finish was excellent but much of the rest was entirely preventable.

Morocco did not panic and continued to sit in, while still throwing back when they got the chance. Azzedine Ounahi had a shot smartly turned behind by Hugo Lloris and Soufiane Boufal claimed hard for a penalty, but was booked for diving instead.

They were almost undone very softly again, however, as a long straight pass over the top resulted in Olivier Giroud battering off a post. Mbappe also nearly sprung them open after Aurelien Tchouameni had robbed the ball in midfield, but his dink was cleared off the line by Jawad El Yamiq.

Yamiq would have the last moment of the first half up the other end, producing a spectacular bicycle kick that was kept out by a combination of Lloris and goalpost.

Morocco have shown their strength defensively, but so have France. The reigning champions have made a legacy on counterattacking sides and blanketing in defence, and their control was clear.

On multiple occasions, Morocco were able to get into dangerous-looking positions, but rarely could they pull the trigger or find the final ball.

One incident, with fifteen to play, was emblematic: substitute forward Hamdallach pinched the ball and wriggled through some tacklers, but just as it looked as if he might fire on goal, the defenders crowded him out.

Up the other end, Mbappe was faced by a similar situation, but shot, got a deflection and Randal Kolo Muani tapped in at the back post. It was his first touch, having been on the field for less than a minute.

Morocco had to throw caution to the wind. Again, they generated situations that might have become chances, but France kept them at bay. When finally the opportunity came after a stunning run by Abdessamad Ezzalzouli, Jules Kounde was on the line to stop the ball.

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