France beat Morocco 2-0 in the semifinals of the World Cup at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday night to end the African side’s dream run in Qatar.
An early goal from Theo Hernandez and a late tap in from substitute Randal Kolo Muani earned defending champions France a hard-fought win over a valiant Morocco side that made African World Cup history at the 2022 tournament.
Didier Deschamps’ team will now face Argentina, who sealed a 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday, as the two heavyweights meet for the first time in a World Cup final.
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“There’s emotion, there’s pride, there’s going to be a final step, we’ve been together with the players for a month, it’s never easy, there’s happiness so far,” Deschamps said after the match.
France poured cold water on the hopes of another Moroccan miracle inside of five minutes when a scramble in the penalty area saw the ball fall to Hernandez, who met it at the back post and pounded a volley past Yassine Bounou.
“Playing two World Cup finals in a row is an incredible moment. We did a good job, it was hard, but we are in the final. We will work hard to win this final,” Hernandez said.
Olivier Giroud struck the post and missed from point-blank range in the first half at the end of a barnstorming run through the middle from Aurelien Tchouameni.
But Morocco were never overawed and had opportunity as Azzedine Ounahi forced two good saves out of French captain Hugo Lloris with speculative efforts, and curling set-pieces put the French defense under pressure.
The north Africans were hit hard by injuries to their key center backs with the gamble of naming Nayef Aguerd in the starting line up failing to come off as he hurt his hamstring in the warm-up and skipper Romain Saiss having to go off after 20 minutes .
Jawad El Yamiq’s audacious overhead kick nearly drew Morocco level at the end of the first half, but Lloris just palmed the ball away from danger as France held on to their 1-0 lead.
Morocco came out squarely on the front foot after the break and Yahya Attiat-Allah spurned a golden opportunity to equalize as they spent much of the first 10 minutes of the second half on France’s defensive end of the field.
Kylian Mbappe’s mazy run through tight space in the Morocco penalty area led to France’s second after the PSG star’s half-shot dribbled toward the goal and Kolo Muani pounced to double the lead with the third-fastest goal by a substitute in World Cup history as Blues booked a return to the final.
Morocco coach Walid Regragui led the Atlas Lions on an improbable run in Qatar, overseeing a group-winning campaign, a round-of-16 win over Spain and victory against Portugal that made them the first African side to reach the semifinals before ultimately losing to France.
“We gave the maximum, that’s the most important,” Regragui said. “We had some injuries, we lost Aguerd in the warm-up, Saiss at half-time. We paid for the slightest mistake. We didn’t get into the game well, we had too much technical waste in the first half, and the second goal kills us. But that doesn’t take away everything we did before.”
France beat Argentina 4-3 at the World Cup in Russia in 2018, although The Albiceleste own the head-to-head record historically with six wins, three draws and three losses in 12 meetings.
France became the first defending champions to reach successive finals since Brazil in 2002 and look to become the first team in 60 years and third team ever to retain the World Cup crown in back-to-back tournaments.
The country’s president Emmanuel Macron said he was “tremendously proud” of France after traveling to Qatar and watching the game with FIFA chief Gianni Infantino.
“I feel very proud of my country. I’m very happy,” Macron told reporters after the match. “I want the French to enjoy this simple happiness.”
Information from Reuters was used in this report.