France – Morocco: France Forge Their Way Back To The Final (2-0)

Morocco have not shied away from any challenge and did not shrink in this fixture either. The setback of an early deficit did not dissuade them from showing other weapons in their armory, but the sharpness of the French tools was enough to blunt their resistance and end the dream.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

On the global stage, the Moroccans have set about subverting the hegemony. It is a task that has taken on symbolic and sporting significance. They are the first African or Arab nation to reach the last four of the World Cup: it is an achievement Walid Regragui’s three and a half month stint in the dugout renders even more impressive. Belgium, Spain, and Portugal failed to breach the walls of the tightest rearguard at this tournament. Only once have they conceded; no opponent has hit the back of their net.

The French must now embrace the villainous role in this arc, but it is not a position they had taken for granted. The absence of several star figures cast serious doubt over their campaign at the outset of the competition. But their reserves of talent, for which the country has received many admirers, have now risen to the occasion. Not merely content with being the first reigning champions to progress from the group stage in 16 years, they wish to retain the trophy for the first time in more than half a century.

Two illnesses forced the hand of Frenchman Didier Deschamps. Dayot Upamecano dropped to the bench, making way for Ibrahima Konaté. Meanwhile, Adrien Rabiot was not in the squad at all. So, he placed Youssouf Fofana next to Aurélien Tchouaméni in the middle of the park. Elsewhere was continuity from the 2-1 win over England. Kylian Mbappé wished to go back clear of Lionel Messi in the battle for the Golden Boot, and Oliver Giroud hoped to extend his national goalscoring record.

Likewise, Regragui brought in two of his players. Noussair Mazraoui was back in the fold, taking the place of Yahia Attiyat-Allah. Nayef Aguerd had also returned to the field. His deputy in the last round, Jawad El Yamiq, did not lose his spot, operating as a central defender at the heart of a back five. Selim Amallah watched from the sidelines while Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat took on the burden in the midfield. The lone striker at the other end of the pitch was Youssef En-Nesyri.

Disruptions dog the Moroccans

The uphill task took on an even steeper outlook for Morocco from the kickoff. The thigh tear that had ruled out Aguerd from the clash with Portugal forced him to pull out of this game too. So, Achraf Dari filled in as a right sided central defender, and El Yamiq started to the left of Romaïn Saiss. This extra disturbance to their preparations hardly helped their cause, nor did a sterling start from the French.

The instigator was a familiar one. Antoine Griezmann came short as if to receive from Raphaël Varane, then spun away from El Yamiq to slip free through the inside right channel, scanning for options in the box. Achraf Hakimi duly tracked Mbappé, whose threat attracted scrambling red shirts into the center of the penalty area. The ball ended up deflecting into the path of Théo Hernández as the free man on the far side. He bid his time, then cracked an acrobatic volley past Yassine Bounou.

Matters nearly took another turn for the worse a quarter of an hour into the game. Giroud broke away from Saïss near the halfway line and lashed a shot against the post. The central defender could not mask the pain of his injuries from the fixture against Portugal, soon departing the field. Not even a quarter of the time in this contest had elapsed, and Regragui’s risk had fallen flat on its face twofold.

France forego their momentum

Amallah swapped in for Saïss, and the Moroccans fell back on their usual 4-1-4-1 structure. But even before this substitution, the strategic dynamics of this contest had already begun to shift. The French were ahead on the scoreline and were free to force their opponents to take the initiative on the pitch.

35th minute: defensive sequence from France. Griezmann had initially pushed out from the midfield to close down El Yamiq while Giroud marked Amrabat. He then drops back into the block, shuffling laterally and blocking the passing lane into the path of the defensive midfielder. Tchouaméni is free to cover Sofiane Boufal while Dembélé and Jules Koundé take care of Mazraoui to their outside. Ounahi switches his attention inside to Amallah, but his pass is a cue for Fofana to close off a pressing trap.

Hardly any pressure came from the front in place of a passive asymmetric 4-3-3 formation. If Mbappé approached Dari, it was only ever ceremoniously. The winger had freedom to lurk higher up the flank and gamble to offer a direct threat on the break. To his inside, Giroud dropped back to provide cover, marking Amrabat as he drifted from side to side. Dembélé worked back more classically on the right flank, and Griezmann tied the structure together. He plugged holes in the halfspace, moved to handle the halfspace ball carrier if necessary, and blocked access to the room around Giroud when advancing.

France had given up their momentum, and Morocco were growing into the game. Yet, they stood firm in their penalty area. The last action in the final third often lacked quality, while the excellence of the central defenders cut out the danger from many crosses. Could they continue to resist after the break?

Morocco marvel but France finish the contest

The current flow of the game persisted in the second half. Deschamps’ men sank back further into their half of the pitch, Mbappé waited near the halfway line, and Giroud continued to track Amrabat. But over time, the focus of the Moroccan attack had shifted decisively. The exit of Mazraoui before the restart sharpened the focus on the trident on the right edge. Ounahi, Hakimi, and Hakim Ziyech worked in tandem to exploit the space behind the left winger and managed to lure out Hernández.

53rd minute: offensive sequence from Morocco. Hakimi rotated into the space between the lines since Ziyech dropped back to receive, occupying depth in the halfspace. Ounahi punches a pass into the feet of Boufal, who dropped between the midfielders as Hakimi moved onto the last line. Ziyech advances to take the ball back on the right flank, then feeds an underlapping run from Boufal to breach the box.

The fluidity and confidence of Regragui’s men impressed but generated little goalmouth action against the French block. Nonetheless, Deschamps turned to the bench in the 65th minute. Giroud came off for Marcus Thuram, who filled in on the left flank. He gave the license to Mbappé to loiter higher up the pitch in the role of a lone striker. So even though Thuram was a more willing worker on the left, Amrabat was now free from the cover of Mbappé to serve both wingers from the center of the field.

But the French had weathered the storm and could kill off the contest at any moment. That dagger arrived in the 79th minute. Again Mbappé drew the attention of multiple markers, another deflected effort from his right boot exposed the ballfar side of their defense, and again a teammate was in the correct place to capitalize. Randal Kolo Muani had entered the fray as the right winger, slotting the ball into an empty net to puncture Moroccan hearts. At long last, the fairytale had come to an end.


The Moroccans bow out of the World Cup with their heads held high. The threat of the French wingers rendered the switch to a back five from Regragui on the evening a sensible, but fatigue, injuries, and game state forced his hand. The manager could not call on the services of the same quality of depth as other nations, and that toll finally made a difference. But even in a defeat where they could not rely on their defense to frustrate their opponent, his men were still competent with the ball. It is fair to say that no one will underestimate an outfit that have exceeded all expectations.

Morocco can still take home a bronze medal on Saturday, but all eyes are now on the French, who will go to war with Argentina for the trophy in the final. Their display conformed to type. The advantage of a goal from Hernández allowed them to sit back, robbing Morocco of the use of the strategy that had served them so well, trust in the discipline of their rearguard and Griezmann, and pick off their opponents. Can they take such a calculated risk against Messi and co? Time will tell.


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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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