AL KHOR, December 15
France held their nerve to overcome a gallant Moroccan effort and secure an opportunity to retain their World Cup crown, beating the North Africans 2-0 in Wednesday’s semifinal to set up a heavyweight showdown with Argentina.
We’re going to enjoy the time. I tell this to my staff and players. Take every moment in the day to really appreciate and savour the moment. In four days we are going to play for a world title. You don’t lose, you just learn. You need to use those bad moments to achieve the target — Didier Deschamps, France coach
Goals from Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani put the French into a fourth World Cup final and gave them the chance to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil 60 years ago.
4 France’s Didier Deschamps is only the fourth manager to lead a nation to back-to-back World Cup finals, after Vittorio Pozzo with Italy (1934, 1938), Carlos Bilardo with Argentina (1986, 1990), and Franz Beckenbauer with Germany (1986, 1990).
44 Randal Kolo Muani scored 44 seconds after coming on as a substitute for France — this was the third-quickest goal ever scored by a substitute at World Cup
7 France have won all seven of their World Cup knockout games since the start of the 2018 tournament. In World Cup history, only Brazil from 1958 to 1970 (nine) have ever had a longer winning run in knockout matches at the finals.
1 France are the first nation to reach back-to-back World Cup finals since
Brazil in 2002, and first European country to do so since Germany in 1990.
Griezmann, the all-in-one player
Al Khor: Darting runs. Key tackles. Timely interceptions. Calming passes. Antoine Griezmann (in pic) did it all for France on Wednesday, and now he’s going to his second World Cup final. Griezmann had exceptional moments in both penalty areas — and all parts of the field in between, really to help France beat an impressive Morocco 2-0 in the semifinals at Al Bayt Stadium.
It was a compete showcase of a gifted player who has reinvented himself at this year’s World Cup. And he will now try to deny Lionel Messi, his former teammate at Barcelona, of a first World Cup title on Sunday.
Griezmann played as a winger at the 2014 World Cup, then was France’s key scoring threat in their 2018 title win. He’s now an all-purpose midfielder creating chances for his teammates and snuffing out opposing threats.
“Griezmannkante,” wrote Paul Pogba admiringly on his Instagram account after the final whistle. Pogba and N’Golo Kante, a relentless ball recovery specialist, were the midfield heart of France’s last title-winning team and their absences in Qatar because of injury put more responsibility on the 31-year-old Griezmann. It was an older, wiser Griezmann who reflected after being voted Player of the Match on how this semifinal win felt different to four years ago, when Belgium were beaten 1-0. “Against Belgium, I cried,” Griezmann said. “I think now I am more focused. I am more composed.” AP
It was as much as their talent-laden squad deserved as they caught Morocco with an early sucker punch and finished off the job 11 minutes from time, setting up a meeting with Argentina on Sunday after Lionel Messi’s team beat Croatia 3-0 in the first semifinal. “There’s emotion, there’s pride, there’s going to be a final step, we’ve been together with the players for a month, it’s never easy, there’s happiness so far,” said coach Didier Deschamps.
France found themselves in an absorbing battle as Morocco showed them no deference and made many chances, coming close to an equaliser.
The world champions’ defence had to scramble several times, including a late goal-line clearance and Morocco struck the post with a spectacular bicycle effort.
Finishing, however, proved the fundamental difference, and the game tilted the way of the world champions after five minutes.
France swept forward and converted their first chance through Hernandez to put their opponents on the back foot. He had to lift his left foot high to connect with a bouncing ball from a tight angle and finish off a sweeping move started by Antoine Griezmann’s run down the right and a cutback pass that Kylian Mbappe initially fluffed.
Mbappe was the creator of the second as he attempted first to dribble through the Morocco defence and then shoot, his effort blocked but falling for Kolo Muani to tap home at the back post with his first touch after coming on. Mbappe’s battle with good friend Achraf Hakimi was a competitive side show but France might have had at least two more goals as Olivier Giroud struck the post and missed from point-blank range in the first half. — Reuters
Paris celebrates win after high-stakes clash
Supporters poured into Paris’s freezing Champs-Elysees boulevard on Wednesday after the World Cup semifinal between France and Morocco which for millions tugged at the heartstrings, as ‘Les Bleus’ won 2-0 to reach the final for a second time in a row. “We just want to celebrate our win and we can really feel it will get crazy,” said student Kerene Massuka who came with a friend. “I am sad and proud at the same time”, said Thomas Bregas, a young Franco-Moroccan wrapped in a Morocco flag. Fans were flanked by hundreds of police trucks securing the area as they let off fireworks and flares to the sound of honks and cheers. Crowds of supporters were seen entering the Christmas-decorated boulevard after the final whistle, where authorities were bracing for tens of thousands despite nipping temperatures. France is home to a large Moroccan community, many of whom have dual citizenship. The stakes were high on both sides.
France-England viewed by 13.5 million in US
World Cup quarterfinals audiences in the United States ranged from 13.5 million to 7.4 million. Defending champion France’s 2-1 win over England on Saturday was seen by 13.5 million, including 8.3 million on Fox, 3.1 million on Spanish-language Telemundo, 560,000 on Fox digital platforms and 1.5 million on the Telemundo and Peacock streaming services.
Poland’s Marciniak named referee for final
Poland’s Szymon Marciniak will referee Sunday’s World Cup final between Argentina and France, the Polish FA said today. The 41-year-old, who made his World Cup debut in 2018 in Russia, will be joined by assistants Pawel Sokolnicki and Tomasz Listkiewicz. Agencies
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