Any promoter would accept that and grin, while the world can start wailing for three idle days with the greatest anticipation. That’s after France went through their semi-final in a 2-0 victory over Morocco, the admirable darling of this World Cup, meaning Sunday will bring Lionel Messi, the 35-year-old Argentine star whose jerseys appear on kids and adult kids all over Planet Earth, to Kylian Mbappé, the 23-year-old French star whose jerseys started appearing on children and adult children all over the planet Earth.
As a bonus, the match will feature a slew of other players with absurd abilities.
“Any team with Messi in it is a totally different proposition,” said 31-year-old French striker Antoine Griezmann, while any team with Mbappé in it … is a totally different proposition.
World Cup bracket and knockout round schedule
France – the beauty of its football that often matches the beauty of its streets, parks, wine, art, architecture, countryside, coastline, language and other things – did something that all other elite teams found impossible against Morocco this World Cup: it scored. It scored a lickety split in the fifth minute and later in the 79th, the former becoming the first dent Morocco had conceded in all tournaments except a stray own goal awarded to Canada, causing the first deficit of the entire World Cup for the first African and first Arab semi-finalist.
“If there’s one thing I regret after this game,” said Walid Regragui, Morocco’s new and already accomplished manager, “it’s the beginning of the game; we conceded a goal very quickly and that gave France confidence and made sure they were in shape.”
France took that advantage to a milestone, becoming the first defending champion to make the arduous journey back to a subsequent World Cup final since Brazil in 1998, and only the fifth since this frenzied global habit began in 1930. It will attempt to become the first defending champion to repeat since Brazil in 1962, when Pelé, Garrincha, Vavá, Zito and Amarildo were the one-word Brazilian names that caused delight in fans and hell in defenses.
Who the hell could unlock Morocco’s Fort Knox from a defence, which had turned out so admirably in this event for going through the first five games and the start of a sixth without conceding a goal, unless you count the own goal that of a lunge came from a Moroccan right boot? Who could score against Morocco in front of its fans, who had become so admirable in this event, which dominated the 68,294 in the Al Bayt stadium, and who completed another thrilling rendition of “Cherifian Anthem”, the anthem of a Moroccan author (lyrics) and French military officer (music)?
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France could. Of course France could, even if it had some help from fate, as if it needed it.
First up, Nayef Aguerd, part of the four-man basic defense that had given so much strength to Morocco’s hard-earned joyride through this tournament, couldn’t go at all due to the flu raging here (and also affected some French players). ). Then Romain Saiss, the 32-year-old captain and defender, ran with a bump that screamed the persistence of the injury that ended his quarter-final on a stretcher in the 57th minute.
Regragui replaced Saiss in the 21st minute – “such an important player for us”, he said – but a little carnival of things had already happened by then.
France navigated this World Cup with their own significant injuries and lacked two regular starters for various reasons on Wednesday evening, but things started to feel right again in that fifth minute as it worked the ball from the left edge of the field towards the goal. near midfield, towards Raphael Varane, the old defender. Varane slid a beautiful pass upfield to longtime performer Griezmann, who spun past a desperate Jawad El Yamiq in one move and continued right.
That looked ominous on every defence, and when Griezmann went to Mbappe, it looked more ominous on every defence. Several Moroccans surrounded Mbappé, causing him to deflect. He quickly darted left to chase for another shot and another deflection.
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But his sheer presence always mattered, because when that deflection tipped to the left, he found defender Theo Hernández, Hernández was there pretty much alone with Yassine Bounou, or Bono, the 31-year-old. Moroccan goalkeeper and star of this event. Then Hernández, a 25-year-old defenseman who probably doesn’t bet much to score in the world’s betting settings, did something acrobatically right.
Presented with a ball that bounced once and bounced high, he straightened up and twisted himself so that the left shoe reaching parallel to the ground could propel the ball past Bono. As the ball bounced down and then in and the French went into the corner jubilantly, two Moroccan players stood nervously in goal as if seeing a goal against them look weird.
Morocco, to its further credit than any credit it has earned here, solved that by playing like someone who belonged here. They got a superb 25-yard shot from Azzedine Ounahi in the ninth minute, such a revelation in this World Cup, that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to dive to the left to thwart. They got an overhead kick from El Yamiq in the 45th minute which banked towards the left post and shook the stadium that could have lasted until Sunday had it scored. And they spent parts of the second half, both early and late, creating stunning and even striking chances that couldn’t quite convert.
“Unfortunately we weren’t clinical in the last third,” said Regragui, seeing in the match “the little details that help true champions win.”
“Morocco impressed me tonight,” said Griezmann.
“It was not an easy win,” said French manager Didier Deschamps, who already won the World Cup as a player (1998) and as a manager (2018), “and we showed our quality, our experience and our team spirit.”
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They did all of the above and they held on even when their defenses had to put out fires both small and large. They finally overcame the constant back and forth of the game in the 79th minute and found something their skill made them sure to find. Mbappé had a big part in that too, with a head-shaking zigzag through three defenders into the top-left corner of the box, then one through a defender’s heel to Randal Kolo Muani, who had just appeared as a substitute with barely enough time to make a move. start sweating.
Kolo Muani, just 24, knocked into the gimme, and France would send an opponent who had matured and was hard to dismiss. That opponent would leave with a final thump of grateful cheer, and the World Cup will move on to a Sunday for which any World Cup would be thankful.
World Cup in Qatar
The last: France will take on Argentina in the World Cup final after knocking out Morocco 2-0 in the semi-final in Khor, Qatar, on Wednesday. Les Bleus will face Lionel Messi and Argentina on Sunday at 10am Eastern for the World Cup. Morocco will play Croatia for third place on Saturday.
World Cup darling: Morocco has had a stunning World Cup run, beating several European powerhouses: Belgium, Spain and now Portugal. Its success has fueled pride and rare unity throughout the Arab world, evoking for some an earlier era of pan-Arab nationalism.
Worldview today: Off the field, the World Cup has been the scene of a rancorous contest between the moralizing West and the increasingly outraged Qatari hosts and their Arab brethren.
Wellbeing+Being: They’ve trained their entire career to perform at the World Cup — building stamina, strength and agility, and developing the mental toughness to handle the pressures of the game. It’s not easy being an elite soccer referee.