Doha, December 13
Morocco’s improbable, history-making run at the World Cup is about to get its ultimate test.
Africa’s first World Cup semifinalists are playing defending champions France and their star striker Kylian Mbappe, the leader of a new wave of football superstars coming out of an era dominated by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Today’s matches LIVE on Sports18
France vs Morocco 12:30am (Thu)
Tomorrow’s match has cultural and political connotations — Morocco was under French rule from 1912-1956 — and the outcome is far from the foregone conclusion many would presume by looking at the names of the players and the rankings of the teams.
Morocco have exceeded all expectations in Qatar by beating second-ranked Belgium in the group stage and then eliminating European powerhouses Spain and Portugal in the knockout phase to reach the semifinals.
No African or Arab nation has ever gotten this far. It is one of the biggest stories in the World Cup’s 92-year history, and Morocco are not done yet.
“I was asked if we can win the World Cup and I said, ‘why not? We can dream, it doesn’t cost you anything to have dreams’,” said Walid Regragui, Morocco’s French-born coach. “European countries are used to winning the World Cup and we have played top sides, we have not had an easy run. Anyone playing us is going to be afraid of us now.”
Even France? The defending champions have just passed their own big test by coming through a tough quarterfinal against England, on a rare occasion when Mbappe was kept quiet.
No player has scored more than his five goals and it won’t be easy for Mbappe to add to that tally against Morocco, who are yet to concede a goal to an opposition player at this World Cup — or indeed in their nine games since Regragui was hired in August. The only goal allowed was an own-goal by their defender, Nayef Aguerd, against Canada in the group stage.
Morocco might have some injuries now — Aguerd and fellow centre-back Romain Saiss could be missing Wednesday — but Regragui’s game plan relies on team shape and discipline more than any specific individual.
“We recovered well. We have good doctors and every day we get good news. No one is ruled out and no one is for certain,” Regragui said. “We’ll use the best team possible.” — AP
I was asked if we can win the World Cup and I said, ‘why not? We can dream, it doesn’t cost you anything to have dreams’. Walid Regragui, Morocco coach
1 France and Morocco will face off in a major international tournament for the first time in their history and this will also be their first meeting in 15 years.
0 Morocco are the only team amongst the semifinalists who are yet to concede a goal to a rival player.
11 France and Morocco have faced each other 11 times and Les Bleus have the upper hand in those contests, winning seven, drawing three, and losing only once.
4 Morocco have managed four clean sheets in the competition. On the other hand, France haven’t kept a clean sheet yet.
0 France have never lost an official match against Morocco. The two have met five times in official international fixtures, and the most recent clash was a 2-2 draw in Paris in 2007.
Frenemies for the night
Doha: Kylian Mbappe (right) and Achraf Hakimi will put their friendship aside both may try to honour a promise they made.”After we play against Morocco, I have to destroy my friend,” Mbappe said in a video on a trip to Qatar in January with their club Paris St Germain. “I’m going to kick him,” a smiling Hakimi responded.
With Mbappe on the left flank of France’s attack, he will cross paths with right back Hakimi, the player he took under his wing when the Moroccan joined PSG from Inter Milan in 2021.
The pair sit next to each other on plane trips, they play video games and holiday together.
Although Morocco will not have any special plan to shackle Mbappe, as England did with Kyle Walker in close attendance and doubling down on him in their 2-1 quarterfinal loss, coach Walid Regragui has complete faith in Hakimi. “I have no doubt that Hakimi will be on top form to get the better of his friend,” Regragui said.
Mbappe has scored five goals and delivered two assists at this World Cup while Hakimi has been key in helping Morocco concede only 10 shots on target in their five matches.
Hakimi celebrated his winning penalty against Spain in the last-16 by imitating a penguin — something he does with Mbappe and Sergio Ramos at PSG. Reuters
Lloris texted Kane after penalty heartache
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris sent a text to England striker Harry Kane after his Tottenham Hotspur teammate blazed a late penalty over the crossbar in his side’s 1-2 quarterfinal loss on Saturday. “It’s a difficult time for the England national team and Harry,” Lloris said. “I don’t need to go too much further. We had a text (exchange) after the game. It was not easy to find the words. He needed some time to rest. But I think he can be proud of what he has done for the national team.”
Rabiot, Upamecano doubtful for Morocco game
Defender Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot are both doubtful for tomorrow’s semifinal against Morocco after missing collective training today. Centre-back Upamecano and Rabiot, who suffer from a cold, are on light training indoors. Upamecano had already missed Monday’s training session.
Hearts swing in hometown of Morocco coach
Ahead of the semifinal between Morocco and France, Hichem Sayadi is feeling torn by divided loyalties. Speaking from his local sports hall in Corbeil-Essonnes, a French suburb south of Paris, where Morocco coach Walid Regragui started playing football, and wearing a Paris St Germain tracksuit, the 29-year-old says he will eventually come down on the side of Morocco. “(Regragui) is from around here, he has played where we play, and also it is an African team ... it is historic,” said Sayadi, who is French-Algerian, adding that “it kills me to be against Kylian (Mbappe).”
Moroccan fans can score free ticket
Hundreds of Moroccan fans waited outside Al Janoub Stadium (in pic) today for a chance to score a free ticket to the country’s semifinal game against France. The tickets were given out by the Moroccan federation in coordination with FIFA and the Qatari organising committee. “We bought the rest of unsold tickets in the stadium and we distributed them to our fans,” Moroccan federation president Fouzi Lekjaa said. “They are here and they have only one desire — to see the national team.” Agencies
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