Keir Radnedge – AIPS Football Delegate
DOHA, December 14, 2022 – The great Arab-African World Cup adventure is over. It was fun while it lasted. Now Sunday’s final, entirely appropriately, will match the event’s finest two teams, two great footballing nations, and the most outstanding individuals: Argentina against France, Leo Messi against Kylian Mbappe.
HARD-WON France, reigning World Cup holders, joined Argentina in the final with a hard-won 2-0 defeat of Morocco at Al Bayt in A Khor. The Atlas Lions chased them all the way, threatened sometimes even to overwhelm them yet never quite found the formula to puncture magnificent blue-shirted resistance.
Mbappe did not add to his tally of five goals but he forced the openings which produced an early strike by Theo Hernandez and a late decider from newly-arrived substitute Randal Kolo Muani.
CONSOLATION FOR MOROCCO Morocco, first African nation to reach the semi-finals, must console themselves with joyous memories of their campaign and pride of place in Saturday’s third-place playoff against Croatia.
FORCED REPLACEMENTS French preparations were upset by illness which forced the replacements of midfielder Adrien Rabiot and central defender Dayot Upamecano replaced by match-rusty Youssouf Fofana and Ibrahima Konaté.
Morocco could not capitalise. They soon had troubles of their own. Defender Nayef Aguerd pulled out in the warm-up and they were still reassigning defensive duties when France struck after only five minutes.
Jawad El Yamiq slipped in moving to cut out a through ball from Raphael Varane, allowing and Antoine Griezmann to skip clear down the right. He crossed for Mbappe to scrap for possession and set up Hernandez to score.
UNTESTED STRATEGY Morocco had to embark on a strategy untested in the finals thus far: attacking on their own terms rather than relying on counter-attacks. This suited France. Olivier Giroud should have done better than strike the outside of a post and then sky another effort on the turn after an Mbappe effort was cleared off the goal line.
Morocco now commanded possession and the match. Early on Azzedine Ounahi forced a diving save from French goalkeeper-captain Hugo Lloris. Just before halftime France failed to clear a right wing corner from Hakim Ziyech and Jawad El Yamiq’s overhead bicycle kick found Lloris diving to deflect against a post.
MAGNIFICENT DEFENDING The French goal lived a charmed life as Morocco piled forward after the break. They were reminiscent of South Korea in 2002, running and chasing with tireless turbocharged vigour. France’s defensive lines were indistinguishable but their defending was magnificent.
Now French coach Didier Deschamps turned to his subs’ bench to probe the gaps opened up on the break. Marcus Thuram proved a handful and then Kolo Muani had barely stepped on to the pitch before he was stabbing home the decisive second goal after another Mbappe raid.
France, on Sunday, will seek to emulate Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 in successfully defending their crown. Morocco will have one last hurrah in Saturday’s third-place playoff.