World Cup semi final preview - France v Morocco

14.12.2022 09:45:06 Bradley Lobo
France v Morocco flags on footballs image

France 

How They Got Here 

France’s route through the earlier rounds can be found here. The heavyweight clash against England in the quarter-finals lived up to expectations and produced one of the best games of the tournament. Les Bleus were outplayed for large periods, especially in the second half, and were relieved to see Harry Kane miss a late penalty that probably would’ve taken the game to extra-time. Once again, the world champions came up with the big moments when it mattered, and Olivier Giroud’s header ended up sending them through to the final four. 

  

Strengths 

Experience Simply put, France know how to get the job done. They will be bidding to reach their second consecutive World Cup final and many of the same players from the successful 2018 squad remain. The defending champions have already showed their nous throughout this tournament, not least when they were under pressure against England and got themselves out of trouble. Morocco have never been anywhere near this stage and the French will look to use all their cunning to outwit them.  

 

QualityDespite missing some key players through injury, Didier Deschamps still has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in comparison to the more modest Moroccans. Five of the French first eleven against England started the 2018 World Cup semi-final and final. The squad boasts the likes of Kingsley Coman who has settled a Champions League final and Eduardo Camavinga who came on to change several games for Real Madrid in their successful run in the same competition last year.  

 

VariationMorocco shocked the world by conquering Belgium, Spain and Portugal, but those teams ended up being very one-dimensional in their approach. All of them tried and failed to pass their way through the compact wall of Moroccan defenders. None of those teams started with a centre-forward of Olivier Giroud’s ilk and quality. The Milan striker gives the French attack a different dimension with his physicality and aerial ability. They can mix things up by going more direct and put crosses into the box for him to attack. It will give the seemingly impenetrable Atlas Lions’ defence a new problem to solve. Kylian Mbappe’s individual ability is also something they have yet to really come up against. He can produce moments that managers simply can’t prepare to guard against. 

  

Weaknesses 

DefenceFrance have still not kept a clean sheet in the tournament and the England game only exposed their defensive frailties further. Dayot Upamecano was overeager at times and Theo Hernandez struggled against Bukayo Saka, before giving away a needless penalty which he was lucky to get away with in the end.  


IllnessThe French squad have apparently been struck down with an illness bug. Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot both sat out full training, with fears mounting that they could miss the game. As good as their squad is, any more casualties could pose real problems for Deschamps. 

  

Morocco 

How They Got Here  

Morocco’s journey through the earlier rounds is documented here and they have now made history as the first African side to ever reach the semi-finals of a World Cup. Another resolute defensive display allowed them to triumph over Portugal in the quarter-final. Youssef En-Nesyri scored the decisive goal and brought a tearful end to Cristiano Ronaldo’s last dance on the grandest stage. The Atlas Lions continue to show disregard for reputation and rip up the script in Qatar.  

  

Strengths 

DefenceHaving only been hired just over 3 months ago, it has been truly remarkable what Walid Regragui has done with this team in terms of organisation and defensive solidity. Morocco have conceded just once in the entire tournament and that was an own-goal. Not one opposition player has been able to breach the Atlas Lions’ backline and they’ve come up against some superstars of world football, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin De Bruyne. It seems unlikely the manager will adapt his gameplan for the French. Morocco will concede possession and sit deep in a low block, but they have also shown the ability to spring dangerous counter-attacks. 

  

HistoryReaching the last four is already a landmark achievement but immortality beckons if they were to become the first African team to compete in and potentially win a World Cup final. A whole continent will be behind them as well as the entire Arab world. 

  

SupportMorocco will have what feels like home court advantage in Qatar. Ever since the host nation were eliminated in the group stage, the Atlas Lions have become the adopted team of the locals. As experienced as France are, they won’t have had to come up against an atmosphere quite like they one they’ll face at Al Bayt Stadium. 

  

Weaknesses 

Injuries Morocco are the walking wounded at the moment. Courageous captain Romain Saïss carried a thigh injury into the Portugal game and was stretchered off after less than an hour. He along with first choice centre-back partner Nayef Aguerd are major doubts for the game. Left-back Noussair Mazraoui is also a concern after missing the Portugal win. Being without any of these players would be a massive blow and missing all three could be disastrous. 

 

FatigueThey have played more minutes than the French and been forced to put in some mammoth defensive shifts. Croatia appeared to finally run out of steam in their semi-final against Argentina and this could also prove to be one step too far for fellow underdogs Morocco, especially if they concede the first goal and are forced to chase the game.  

 

Key Battles 

Kylian Mbappe vs Achraf Hakimi 

They are teammates at PSG and appear to be close friends off the pitch but that will be thrown out the window when they come up against each other. Both are competitors and want to win. Mbappe was kept relatively quiet for a change by England’s Kyle Walker and Hakimi is arguably a tougher prospect to come up against. He is younger and has made more successful tackles than any player at this tournament. Mbappe is joint-top scorer alongside Lionel Messi and will have his eyes on the Golden Boot. This is arguably the most intriguing head-to-head of the entire World Cup. 

 

Antoine Griezmann vs Sofyan Amrabat 

England seemed slightly preoccupied with stopping Mbappe, allowing Griezmann to have too much freedom. The Atletico Madrid forward has enjoyed a renaissance in Qatar, having struggled for form domestically in recent years. Playing in a slightly deeper role, he has had a massive influence on games and only Lionel Messi has created more chances at this tournament having played a game more. Amrabat will be the man charged with stopping him and he has been Morrocco's monster in the middle of the park, destroying and breaking up play whilst covering every blade of grass for his country. 

 

Olivier Giroud vs Romain Saïss 

Giroud was left out of the French squad earlier this year and was expected to play a supporting role at best in Qatar. Karim Benzema’s injury gave him a route back into the starting line-up and he has grasped it with both ends. The 36-year-old striker continues to prove why he is one of the most underrated players of his generation and the decisive goal in the quarter-final against England was testament to that. Regragui will be desperate to have Saïss fit to face him. The Morocco captain has been a rock at the back and will be crucial in aerial duels with the dangerous Giroud. 

 

Theo Hernandez vs Hakim Ziyech 

Ziyech is another player who has enjoyed a revival at this World Cup and is his country’s most talented attacking player. Theo Hernandez will hope to push him back with his own forays forward, but he showed chinks in his armour defensively against England, not least giving away that cheap late penalty 

 

Verdict 

France 3-1 Morocco 

The world champions will prove to be a bridge too far for the brave Atlas Lions, especially with the players in defence they are potentially missing. France have too many weapons in attack and should go on to face Argentina in the final.

 

 

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