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France ends Morocco’s Cinderella story to make 2nd-straight World Cup Final

France Morocco World Cup semifinals
France’s Theo Hernandez , celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

France’s quest in becoming the first team to repeat as World Cup champions since 1962 is now just one more hurdle away after ending Morocco’s Cinderella story at the 2022 tournament in Qatar with a 2-0 victory. 

The 2018 champions punched their ticket to set up one of the most tantalizing World Cup Finals we’ll ever see as Kylian Mbappe and Les Bleus face Lionel Messi and Argentina on Sunday at Lusail Stadium.

Goals from Theo Hernandez — who replaced his brother in France’s first match of the tournament after tearing his ACL — and Randal Kolo Muani put the European side through with plenty of help from the transcendental Mbappe. The 23-year-old has followed up his coming-out party in 2018 with another brilliant tournament with his latest contributions to break down a Moroccan defense that had been all but impenetrable in Qatar.

It’s a harsh end for Morocco, which captivated the soccer world by becoming the first African nation ever to qualify for a World Cup semifinal while defeating the likes of Belgium, Spain, and Portugal along the way. But any hopes of its defense holding against the powerhouse French — exhibiting a back five for the first time all tournament — evaporated in just the fifth minute.

A scramble in the Moroccan box saw an Mbappe shot deflected to the left where a wide-open Hernandez waited. Playing it on the bounce, he managed to get his foot up in time to finish with a scissor kick past an on-rushing Yassine Bounou. 

The tally put Morocco down for the first time all tournament. It was also the first time in Qatar that the Atlas Lions allowed a goal scored by an opponent. Their only other goal conceded came on an own goal against Canada during the group stage. 

Olivier Giroud had two golden opportunities to double France’s lead in the first half alone. In the 17th minute, he was through on goal after Morocco misjudged a long clearance, but his searing shot hit off the left post. 

In the 36th minute, after Mbappe was played through on goal but couldn’t chip his chance on target, the clearance was gathered by Hernandez, who sent a quick pass to Giroud. Bounou was out of position, but the striker’s spinning effort went wide of the left post. 

Morocco nearly found the most stunning of equalizers off a corner in the 44th minute when Jawad El Yamiq hit a bicycle kick off the post, which French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris looked to have gotten a piece of to keep out. 

Morocco carved out its chances throughout the second half, especially in the first 35 minutes, but the lack of finishing touch haunted a team that had scored just five times throughout the entire tournament. 

Mbappe helped put it away for France in the 79th minute when he skipped and jolted his way through the Moroccan defense in the box. His attempted shot was blocked again but it fell right into the path of Kolo Muani at the back post, who found the simplest of finishes just seconds after being substituted on Ousmane Dembele.

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