Reigning champions France down Morocco to reach World Cup final

Al Khor, Qatar, Dec 14 (EFE).- France kept alive their quest to become the first team in 60 years to repeat as World Cup champions, defeating Morocco 2-0 here Wednesday to advance to the final against Argentina.

Les Bleus hope to match the feat of the Brazil side that won back-to-back World Cups in 1958 and 1962, but Morocco will leave Qatar having already made history as the first squad from Africa to reach the final four.

The vast majority of the 68,000-plus in the stands at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor were there to cheer on the Atlas Lions, who still have a chance to add to their accomplishment by beating Croatia Saturday in the match for third place.

Sunday’s final will have the added drama of a confrontation between Argentine great Lionel Messi and France’s Kylian Mbappe, who are teammates at Paris Saint-Germain.

At 35, the seven-time Ballon d’Or is likely playing in his last World Cup and desperately wants to give Argentina their first triumph since Diego Maradona led the Albiceleste to victory in Mexico in 1986.

While Mbappe, the breakout star of World Cup 2018, has a chance to hoist the trophy for a second time before reaching the age of 24.

Morocco made it to the semifinal on the strength of almost flawless defending, conceding only once – an own goal – in five matches, but France grabbed the lead in the 5th minute Wednesday.

Antoine Griezmann steamed into the area and cut back to Mbappe, who was stopped twice by keeper Yassine Bounou before the ball fell to Theo Hernandez, who fired home.

Going behind so early forced Morocco to change their tactics and Azzedine Ounahi tested Hugo Lloris in the 11th minute before Raphael Varane broke up a ball into the box for Youssef En-Nesyri off a free kick in the 15th.

Hakim Ziyech fired wide in the 17th minutes and the ensuing French counter saw Olivier Giroud hit the post.

Giroud, whose goal against Poland in the round-of-16 made him France’s all-time top scorer, went on to squander a pair of opportunities to double the advantage and only the post prevented Jawad El Yamiq from bringing Morocco level in first-half stoppage time.

The Atlas Lions kept up the pressure in the second half, yet the French defenders kept them at bay.

Marcus Thuram, replacing Giroud, sent a header wide of the post in the 72nd minute, seven minutes before another sub, Randal Kolo Muani, got the vital second goal for France just 44 seconds after coming onto the pitch.

Mbappe, who was not a factor in the 2-1 French victory against England in the quarterfinal, was again involved, taking the initial shot that set up Kolo Muani’s goal off the rebound.

Morocco battled on valiantly and laid siege to the France goal in stoppage time.

Ounahi saw a strike deflected over the cross-bar before Yahia Attiyat Allah forced a save from Lloris and Jules Kounde made a block on the line to deny Abderrazak Hamdullah. EFE


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