History is not kind to FIFA World Cup defending champions. In the past three tournaments before this one, they all crashed in the first round. And yet, here is France making it to their second successive final, where Lionel Messi and Argentina await them on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 11 p.m. (Philippine time).
The Les Bleus, as they are also known, overpowered Morocco 2-0 in the semifinals held at the Al Bayt Stadium this morning, ending the African side’s dream run in Qatar.
France is now a win away from becoming the first team since 1962’s Brazil to win back-to-back World Cup trophies.
The nightmare came early for Morocco when, just 5 minutes into the game, Theo Hernandez delivered a left footer that found the left bottom corner of the goal. With that first goal, France masterfully doused the hopes of another Moroccan miracle.
Remarkably, it was the first goal Morocco conceded from an opponent’s player in this edition of the World Cup, and the first time the team trailed in this tournament.
At the 21st minute, Morocco suffered another setback when captain and defender Romain Saiss, already nursing a thigh injury before the match, had to be substituted; coach Walid Regragui was forced to switch from a 5-4-1 formation to a 4-3-3 as they sought to find a way back into the game. But with an inexperienced pairing in the middle of their defense, Morocco’s notoriously tight backline faced a real struggle to contain France’s array of attacking threats.
Morocco remained competitive—their best opportunity came in the 43rd minute when Jawad El Yamiq made a beautiful bicycle kick off a corner kick, only to be deflected by French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
France made sure there would be no equalizer and a penalty shootout that could give Morocco an advantage. In the 79th minute, 23-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe danced around the Moroccan defense and powered through a shot that landed on the right foot of Randal Kolo Muani, who calmly kicked it into the net to give France a 2-0 lead.
Kolo Muani had substituted into the game just a minute earlier.
For France, a mouth-watering final against Argentina will see Mbappé—the leader of a new wave of football superstars—facing his Paris Saint-Germain (a professional football club based in Paris) teammate, Messi, who at 35 years old, might be seeing his last World Cup participation.
Morocco faces Croatia this Saturday, Dec. 17, at 11 p.m. (Philippine time) to determine the World Cup third placer.