Morocco created history by becoming the first African and first Arab nation to play in a FIFA World Cup semi-final, but their memorable run came to an end against France.
They put up a great fight, so we have much to discuss from this game.
Semi-Final: France 2-0 Morocco
Morocco looked to continue their memorable World Cup knockout run and become the first African team to reach the final, but they had a minor obstacle to overcome in the form of France, who also happened to be the defending champions.
There was some interesting pre-match team news. France were without a couple of their starters from the tournament, but they were more than adequately replaced by Youssouf Fofana and Ibrahima Konaté.
Walid Regragui made some big calls for Morocco, switching to a 5-4-1 formation and initially naming all of the key players who were injury doubts for this game in the line-up (Nayef Aguerd was withdrawn just before kick-off), including captain Romain Saïss who was stretchered off in the last game.
In theory, the switch to the back-five would help Morocco defend against France’s front-five (which we discussed in our tactical preview of the match), but they had to make a trade-off by sacrificing a midfielder.
That proved to be an issue against Antoine Griezmann, who was often free in the right half-space or dragged a centre-back out of possession. He was instrumental in the build-up to the opening goal, spinning away from Jawad El Yamiq and getting into the box before a scramble led to the ball getting to Theo Hernández, who calmly sent it past Yassine Bounou from close range.
France had another great chance soon thereafter as Olivier Giroud ran in behind and outpaced the clearly unfit Saïss (who was promptly brought off), but his powerful effort struck the post and stayed out.
After their captain departed the pitch, Morocco reverted to their usual 4-1-4-1 formation as midfielder Selim Amallah, and they started to look a lot more threatening thereafter.
The closest they came to a first-half equaliser was when El Yamiq attempted an overhead kick after a corner, but his effort was tipped onto the post by Hugo Lloris, and it stayed out.
Morocco began to ramp up the pressure in the second half, invited by a French defence that started to sink deeper and deeper in their own half.
The Atlas Lions ended the match with a comfortable majority of possession and were able to make a good deal of headway on their right thanks to the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Achraf Hakimi and Azzedine Ounahi, but for all the promising positions they got it, they just could not create big chances.
One of the reasons behind that was the fact France were able to get a lot of bodies inside their box while defending thanks to their deep defensive block.
Crucially, their defenders stepped up when needed most, especially Konaté who made five interceptions and four clearances. Of course, part of the rationale behind France’s defensive approach was that the deeper they sunk, the greater their counter-attacking potential became.
They knew that a second goal would take the sting out of Morocco, and it eventually came in the 79th minute.
It started with a giveaway in midfield, after which Aurélien Tchouaméni carried the ball forward. It eventually reached Kylian Mbappé at the edge of the box, after which the PSG star weaved his way between a crowd of defenders and got a shot away.
That was deflected into the path of substitute Randal Kolo Muani, who scored with his first touch in the World Cup knockouts.
Morocco’s day was rather summed up late in stoppage time when Abde Ezzalzouli got into the box down the byline on the left with some great dribbling and squared it for Ounahi.
His shot was directed from effectively underneath the crossbar by Abderrazak Hamdallah, but Jules Koundé was standing on the goal line and managed to get it away.
The Atlas Lions bow out with their heads held high and now have a third-place play-off to contest.
France will be in action a day after that as the first defending champions to participate in a World Cup final since the turn of the century and hoping to become the first to retain the title since 1962.
👀 Looking Ahead
We have two more days off before the World Cup draws to a close on the weekend, with the third-place play-off on Saturday and the big one on Sunday.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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