France join Argentina in final: Five takeaways from day 25 of 2022 World Cup
Morocco may have been the choice of the people after a string of courageous displays, but France has made it to consecutive World Cup finals.
Les Bleus weren’t great in victory, but they had the firepower others lacked when it came to making their way through Morocco’s stubborn line of defence. Argentina will face France in the World Cup final on Sunday.
Here are the top five takeaways FourFourTwo has learned over the course of another action-packed day at the World Cup.
Morocco appears to be porous without key figures
Hakim Ziyech may have been the undisputed star of this Moroccan team, but during Qatar 2022, the performances of two lesser lights, well known to Premier League fans, had been key in the progress of the country’s underdog.
Nayef Aguerd and Roman Saiss, the first from West Ham and the last ever a Wolves man, had been the best central-defensive partnership of the tournament so far. Before the game against France, no opponent had breached them – the only goal they conceded, in a 2–1 win over Canada, was an own goal scored by Aguerd.
So it was crushing to watch them both stumble out of the biggest match of their lives – Aguerd in the warm up and Saiss at half time, the latter struggling in the opening period. France had already scored when Saiss left, but in reality the two heroes of this adventure were cruelly denied the chance to test their combined might against the best.
Both, as well as Morocco fans around the world, will wonder what would have happened had they been fit.
France shows its clinical side again
Despite France progressing with a 2-0 win, few Les Bleus fans would argue their team was much better than Morocco on the night. They probably also agreed that they were no better than England in the previous round.
But as always, ruthlessness made all the difference. It was Olivier Giroud in the quarterfinals and tonight it was Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Munai. They may not have controlled their World Cup matches for a long time, or even defended them very well in the past month, but France simply knows how to get the ball into the back of the net.
Morocco, like England last week, toiled admirably but was unable to advance into the semi-finals. The Atlas Lions’ best effort was probably Jawad El Yamiq’s daring bicycle kick. If you rely on miracles, you won’t win world cups. Taking the easy risks does that – and France is best at it.
Deschamps deserves huge praise
Losing a key player on the eve of a major tournament is every international manager’s worst nightmare. Losing four is unthinkable.
Yet Didier Deschamps has had to deal with that. For Qatar, Karim Benzema, Lucas Hernandez, N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba were all in the French manager’s best eleven – but all four retired before a ball was kicked.
Deschamps simply reshuffled his side – albeit with envious strength to draw from – forging a new team that has now reached a second successive final. The likes of Dayot Upamecano, Auerlien Tchouameni and Olivier Giroud have performed superbly in place of the more illustrious names usually ahead of them in the pecking order, while the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann seem to enjoy playing with new faces.
Whatever happens on Sunday, Deschamps deserves huge credit for leading such an impressive B team to a World Cup final.
Morocco is an inspiration to the underdogs
Let’s face it, no one saw it coming. Morocco didn’t feature in many of the pre-tournament ‘dark horse’ articles, but the Atlas Lions will leave Qatar as one of the biggest World Cup sensations ever.
Not only did they make history by becoming the first African or Arab country to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup, but they also provided a blueprint of success for possible surprise packages of the future.
Walid Regragui has only been in service for three months, but the manager quickly recognized his team’s strengths and created a system that brought out the best in them all.
A top goalkeeper, well-trained backline and excellent defensive midfielder kept things tight – so tight that no team before France scored against them in open play – as they counter-attacked with dedication, intelligence and intensity rather than batting and hoping .
This side has no real stars of the global game – Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi come closest – but Morocco’s success in Qatar will give hope not only to their fellow African and Arab nations, but to all unconceived parties, that the greatest nations can get a nosebleed with a little courage and faith.
Theo Hernandez is a threat, but also a risk
Both extremes of Theo Hernandez’s play, the good and the bad, came to light in the first half.
The left-back leaped into the air to volley the opener in five minutes, demonstrating a level of finishing and athleticism rarely seen by players in his role.
But not long after, the AC Milan man bumped into Sofiane Boufal awkwardly in the penalty area. It should have been a penalty, but somehow the Morocco winger got a yellow card.
The fact that Theo’s comfort zone is attacking the box rather than defending his own box is a big part of why he started the tournament as second choice behind his brother Lucas, who was soon injured.
And the sight of Lionel Messi smashing the right wing against Croatia and twisting one of the World Cup’s standout defenders, Josko Gvardiol, inside and out to score a goal might make French fans consider whether Theo’s offensive weapons are incidental make up for defensive mistakes. .
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