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France edge past Morocco to set up Argentina final

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Action from the match between France and Morocco
Action from the match between France and Morocco

France set up a FIFA World Cup final showdown against Argentina as Randal Kolo Muani’s goal 44 seconds after coming off the bench helped secure a 2-0 victory over Morocco in the second semi-final played at the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, Qatar yesterday.

The reigning champions France, seeking to become the first side to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962, took the lead after only five minutes when Theo Hernandez finished acrobatically from close range, but they were made to work for their win.

Morocco, the first African side in history to contest a World Cup semi-final following historic wins over Spain and Portugal, were roared on by another partisan crowd and subjected France to heavy pressure, with Jawad El Yamiq striking the post as they fought valiantly despite injuries to key players.

France, though, showed their tournament pedigree, defending resolutely then seizing their chance to kill the game when Kolo Muani slid home Kylian Mbappe’s deflected effort at the far post in the 79th minute, his first international goal leaving the Moroccans heartbroken.

France now face Argentina, who beat Croatia 3-0 in the other semi-final, in Sunday’s final as they seek to defend their crown in a contest which pits Mbappe against Paris Saint-Germain teammate Lionel Messi, while Morocco have to settle for a third-place playoff to conclude their outstanding tournament.

Morocco boss Walid Regragui had opted to switch to a back five to contain France’s considerable attacking threat but his plans were immediately disrupted when centre-back Nayef Aguerd, listed as a starter having missed the win over Portugal through injury, was forced to withdraw before kick-off.

France immediately capitalised on the upheaval, their early goal created by the excellent Antoine Griezmann as an El Yamik error allowed him to cut the ball back for Mbappe, whose shot was blocked before falling to Hernandez to convert.

Hernandez’s well-taken strike made him the first opposition player to score past Morocco, who had kept four clean sheets in the previous five games at the tournament, and the Atlas Lions sought an immediate response at the other end.

Azzedine Ounahi drew a fine save from Hugo Lloris with a long-range effort and Hakim Ziyech dragged another shot wide, but France then went close themselves when Olivier Giroud fired against the post from Ibrahima Konate’s long pass.

Morocco were dealt another blow in the aftermath of that Giroud opportunity when Romain Saiss, Aguerd’s usual centre-back partner and another injury doubt before the game, had to be taken off. (C.D)

Friday, December 16, 2022 – 01:00

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