World Cup 2022: France on the brink of history as magnificent Morocco fall short

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France will meet Argentina in Sunday’s final in what will be a clash between two of the pre-tournament favourites.

To France goes the chance to create history, to Morocco goes the pride and the knowledge their place in the history books has already been secured.

A first-half goal from left-back Theo Hernandez and a killer goal from substitute Randal Kolo Muani ensured Didier Deschamps’ side will meet Argentina in Sunday’s World Cup Final and left the history-making Africans to prepare for Saturday’s third-fourth place play-off against Croatia.

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France started well and got themselves in front with just five minutes on the clock as Theo Hernandez managed to do something no other player had done at the finals by becoming the first opposition player to score against Morocco when he fired home at the far post as the defensive discipline of the Atlas Lions evaded them for once.

Morocco remained in the game and their efforts during the second-half probably deserved to force the game into an additional half-hour - but there was a cruel twist as the final ten minutes approached as France substitute Muani doubled his side’s lead within a minute of his introduction at the expense of Ousmane Dembele.

The goal did not quite kill off the Moroccans but their push for a goal that their wonderful supporters deserved did not arrive, despite their desperate efforts in injury-time. Their outstanding run to the final is over, and it is the French that will look to follow in the footsteps of Italy and Brazil by becoming only the third country to defend the World Cup.

The Mbappe v Messi Final

Kylian Mbappe will meet Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Lionel Messi in the World Cup Final (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) Kylian Mbappe will meet Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Lionel Messi in the World Cup Final (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)
Kylian Mbappe will meet Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Lionel Messi in the World Cup Final (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) | AFP via Getty Images

There is a very obvious angle that will be the focus of the pre-match hype and post-match reflect when it comes to Sunday’s final between France and Argentina. It is the man that has taken his place as one of the greatest - if not the greatest of all-time - over the last 16 years in Lionel Messi against the man that seems highly likely to be viewed in the same light when his career comes to a close in years to come.

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Kylian Mbappe has not always been at his scintiallating best over France’s last two games but he has always threatened to produce something unexpected, much like the Paris Saint-Germain team-mate that will line up against him in the final. For some, Messi must claim a World Cup Final win to surpass Diego Maradona’s achievements during his career. But regardless of what happens on Sunday, Messi has already set the standards of consistency and performance that Mbappe will look to surpass on a regular basis over the next decade and beyond.

Magnificent Morocco just fall short

Morocco have created history by becoming the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final - and they couldn’t have done too much more to have extended that run into Sunday’s final (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)Morocco have created history by becoming the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final - and they couldn’t have done too much more to have extended that run into Sunday’s final (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Morocco have created history by becoming the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final - and they couldn’t have done too much more to have extended that run into Sunday’s final (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) | Getty Images

As a neutral, it was hard not to throw enthusiastic support behind Morocco after their history-making run to the last four - and all of the skill, commitment and organisation that took them to the semi-final was on display once again.

It’s difficult to pick out individuals in what is a team built on togetherness but the right-sided combination of Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech stands out like a sore thumb and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou has been a major part of one of the most organised defences in the tournament. The midfield partnership of Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi has been among the very best in Qatar and they will no doubt be the source of speculation as we head towards the January transfer window and it would be no surprise to see both heading to pastures new by the end of the month.

For those of a certain age, the Cameroon side that captured the hearts of the world at Italia 90 will live long in the memory - but this Morocco side deserve equal appreciation and admiration for what they have displayed over the last four weeks. No matter what happens in Saturday’s third/fourth place play-off against Croatia, people that have witnessed the achievements of the Atlas Lions will relieve their heroics for generations to come.

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