AL KHOR, Qatar — France are on their way to a second consecutive World Cup final after goals from Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani gave Les Blues a 2-0 win over Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.
Hernandez steered a volley past Yassine Bounou with just five minutes played, and although Morocco put up a spirited and defiant display, they were unable to find a way through and conceded again 11 minutes from time as Kolo Muani tapped home after good work from Kylian Mbappe. France will face Argentina at Lusail Stadium in Sunday’s final.
1. France set up chance for back-to-back World Cups
Only Brazil in 1962 and Italy in 1938 have ever successfully defended the World Cup, but France can join that illustrious group after reaching the final with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Morocco. Just as against England at the quarterfinal stage, Didier Descamps’ side rode their luck at times and were solid rather than stylish throughout, relying on some dogged and occasionally desperate defending to repel a Morocco team roared on by their tireless supporters.
France, watched here by President Emmanuel Macron, were functional when winning in Russia four years ago and the early goal enabled them to sit back once again here, although Morocco gave them several scares prior to Kolo Muani’s late goal. It is difficult to argue with Deschamps’ results, however, as France have now qualified for three finals in their past four major tournaments. The last team to reach back-to-back finals were Brazil in 1994, 1998 and 2002.
2. Injuries weaken Morocco’s stoic defence
Not a single opposition player had scored against Morocco at these finals before Wednesday, with the only goal they conceded coming through a Nayef Aguerd own-goal in their group-stage victory over Canada. Aguerd (groin) was one of four players who were fitness doubts coming into this match, but coach Walid Regragui named all four in his starting lineup with Romain Saiss (thigh), Sofyan Amrabat (back) and Noussair Mazraoui (illness) included. However, Aguerd did not come through the warmup, forcing Morocco into a late change with Achraf Dari drafted in, while Saiss lasted just 21 minutes before being forced off injured.
Perhaps the late reshuffle contributed to Hernandez’s opening goal, with Antoine Griezmann finding space following Jawad El Yamiq’s missed interception to help create the breakthrough. Morocco were a persistent threat going forward, and in fairness to Amrabat, he won the ball back five times in the opening 15 minutes alone. France sat back and Morocco were willing to do the running, ending with 61% possession, but they were more open at the back than at any other point in the tournament.
Ultimately, France were able to pick them off. Mbappe had a quiet evening but one of his trademark runs ended in a shot that broke fortuitously for Kolo Muani to end the contest.
2. Hernandez’s rollercoaster tournament continues
He started the tournament on the bench. He came in following an injury to his elder brother, Lucas Hernandez. He almost cost France their quarterfinal victory over England by needlessly conceding a late penalty that Harry Kane skied over the crossbar. And now he has fired France into the final.
It is never quiet when Theo Hernandez is concerned. His goal, a well-taken volley after just four minutes and 39 seconds, was the fastest in a World Cup semifinal since Vava netted in the second minute of Brazil’s 5-2 win against France in 1958. After two assists in the group stage, it was his third goal contribution at these finals, a joint-high for a defender alongside Raphael Guerreiro.
He was fortunate, however, not to concede another penalty when challenging Sofiane Boufal in the 27th minute. Replays appeared to show Boufal get something on the ball before Hernandez tackled him, but VAR Drew Fischer of Canada chose not to intervene. In fact, Boufal was booked. It was another moment of fortune in what has become a rollercoaster tournament for the 25-year-old, who now has a chance to emulate his brother, the starting left-back in France’s triumphant team from four years ago.
Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)
France: Hugo Lloris 7, Jules Kounde 7, Raphael Varane 7, Ibrahima Konate 8, Theo Hernandez 7, Aurelien Tchouameni 8, Youssouf Fofana 7, Ousmane Dembele 7, Antoine Griezmann 8, Kylian Mbappe 7, Olivier Giroud 6
Subs: Marcus Thuram 7, Randal Kolo Muani 7
Morocco: Yassine Bounou 7, Achraf Hakimi 7, Jawad El Yamiq 7, Achraf Dari 7, Romain Saiss 5, Noussair Mazraoui 7, Hakim Ziyech 6, Azzedine Ounahi 7, Sofyan Amrabat 7, Sofiane Boufal 7, Youssef En-Nesyri 6
Best and worst performers
BEST: Antoine Griezmann, France. Created more chances (four) than any player on either team and helped provide France’s early breakthrough with clever movement in the buildup to Hernandez’s opener.
WORST: Olivier Giroud, France. Missed a glorious chance to put France 2-0 up in the first half, and Les Bleus looked better when he was replaced by Thuram in a tactical rejig.
Highlights and notable moments
Very much here for the heartwarming moment between Paris Saint-Germain teammates Mbappe and Hakimi in the tunnel before the match.
Nothing but love between Hakimi and Mbappe in the tunnel before the match ❤️ pic.twitter.com/cK45kpucjs
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 14, 2022
Hernandez gets his boot way, way up there to score the decisive goal.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS SCORE FIRST
Theo Hernández puts France out in front 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/8YFbCwGN9d
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 14, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Regragui: “We gave our best and I can’t ask for more. We lost a few players before the game and also during the match. The players who came in did their best. Ultimately, if you make a few mistakes against a team like France, you pay big time.”
Hernandez: “It’s incredible to play two in a row. We’ve done good work to get to the final and it will be a tough match against Argentina.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Hernandez’s goal was the quickest scored in a World Cup semifinal since Vava struck for Brazil against France in the second minute of the 1958 semifinal.
– En-Nesyri is the first player to play at least 60 minutes in a World Cup game and have fewer than five touches since at least 1966.
– Griezmann is the first Frenchman to create 20 chances at a single World Cup since Youri Djorkaeff created exactly 20 in 1998. Griezmann is the first Frenchman with more than 20 chances created at a World Cup since Alain Giresse created 24 in 1986.
– Kolo Muani scored with his first touch of the game.
France: Les Bleus move on to Sunday’s World Cup final, when they’ll take on Messi and Argentina at 10 a.m. ET.
Morocco: The next scheduled fixture for Morocco is an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa on June 12.