France Ends the Moroccan Dream


And lo the Moroccan bandwagon did meet the French resistance in Al-Rayyan and after 90 minutes of drama, the magical dream of the Maghreb was over.

France Ends the Moroccan Dream.
FIFA World Cup Final 2022 Official Poster

For all the talk of underdogs and the soccer world expanding in 2022, the final will be between two former multiple winners and heavyweights, Argentina and France.

Morocco join the list of plucky and illustrious outsiders who ran aground in the semi-finals, which includes Bulgaria, Chile, Poland, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey. 

Their colourful fans utterly dominated Doha and the Khalifa International stadium today but the North African eleven fell short against the holders, who once more won without breaking too much of a sweat, the mark of a champion.

An early strike from Theo Hernandez blunted the Moroccan scimitars before Kylian Mbappe forged France's key second strike, zumba-ing between red shirts to set up Kolo Muani for a tap-in in the 79th minute.

The Atlas Lions gave it a good lash all the same and caused the French some headaches, but their best efforts were not enough to pierce the most underrated defence at the World Cup.

We should all salute the departing underdogs, whose attacking bravery was typified by the surging runs of Abderazzak Hamdallah and Abde Azzalzouli that almost led to goals, as well as Jawad El Yamiq's unexpected bicycle kick, which struck the woodwork.

Hakim Ziyech, so underwhelming at Chelsea, had rediscovered his Ajax form for Morocco this tournament and was instrumental in attack tonight but once more the star of their show was slender midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, who has been a revelation all this World Cup. 

Tonight he ran further than anyone else on the field and almost scored with a curling shot in the first half. Angers seems an unlikely employer for one of the undoubted players of the tournament so expect a big move in January for the energetic and hitherto unheralded 22 year-old.

As for France, they look in mesmeric form as they return to the final, with a mean defence capable of withstanding attacks like England's and coping with an intimidating atmosphere like tonight's Moroccan bazaar.  Argentinian supporters will likewise fill the Lusail for the final.

Five of tonight's eleven started the 2018 World Cup final and the manager is the same, which should be a psychological edge. Les Bleus still appear to be concealing an extra gear and have proved adept at conceding possession before turning the screw at decisive moments, as Japan did in the group stage.

Once more tonight the losers dominated time on the ball, apparently confirming the decline of successful possession football at this tournament, following the exits of European heavyweights Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

For all the global excitement at the stars above Qatar aligning to anoint one of football's finest at the twilight of his international career, there is the small matter of Argentina having to defeat the best side in the competition first.

Mbappe is as dangerous as ever but Olivier Giroud has been razor sharp too while Antoine Griezmann's roving role has proved most delightful to the football connoisseur. Given the Atletico Madrid man is as likely to pop up with a saving tackle in his own box as he is to provide a goalscoring assist in the opposition's, when he is not orchestrating in midfield, he has become impossible to mark or shut down.

Morocco's incursions down the French right will give Argentina hope, as well as their time spent in the French final third. The Atlas Lions did not employ their usually ferocious gegenpressing tonight because of fear of the French connections, but veterans Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria, as well as their younger lieutenants Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez, may be more confident on Sunday.

Lionel Scaloni now has three days to find the chinks in Didier Deschamps' armour. Scaloni deserves huge credit for hauling his side to the final but Deschamps is also on the cusp of the first World Cup defence since 1962. The generals will plan for battle now, and psychological steel will matter as much as pace and technique on the day. The cup will be won on the tactics board pre-match and in the players' heads.

But planning is never watertight and in the dynamic duo of Messi and Mbappe, both sides have fantasistas impossible to completely control.

Deschamps will be studying the video of Saudi Arabia's historic victory over the Albiceleste, the Argentine mentality raving against the Netherlands, their 12 yellow cards (the third highest in Qatar) as well as noting the Dutch success with an English style of football to haul themselves back into their quarter-final clash with curiosity - while playing for Chelsea the Frenchman said English football did not impress him much.

He knows his team's strengths are probably too much for any side to handle, but that Argentina have a tidal wave of confidence and supporters behind them too. Scaloni, in his first managerial job by accident, has performed heroics in rejuvenating Messi and reinforcing the midfield and attack so it is less a case of give him the ball and hope.

The tournament's top four scorers - Messi and Mbappe with five each and Olivier Giroud and Julian Alvarez with four goals - will play in the World Cup final, so it bodes well for net-busting.

The finalists are the third and fourth-ranked FIFA nations, but the 22nd ranked nation made a wonderful run to the semi-finals, enthusing the Arab world in a Middle Eastern World Cup in the process and cementing their place in football history as the first African team to reach the last four.

Whether France win back-to-back FIFA World Cups or Messi crowns his career with the missing trophy, Morocco in Qatar 2022 will not be forgotten.

Qatar 2022

Al Rihla Official Ball

Cristiano Ronaldo Dropped

Qatar 50/50

Qatar v Ecuador - Opening Match

Qatar is the World's Cup

Hakuna Matata

Hotels in Doha

Images of Qatar

Offside Technology

Opening Ceremony

Super Sunday

The Calling

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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