Player ratings as clinical Bleus return to World Cup final
France booked their place in the 2022 World Cup final against Argentina after surviving a Morocco onslaught in their semi-final.
With goals from Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani in either half, the reigning champions are the first side since Brazil in 2002 to reach successive World Cup finals.
If Morocco, hoping to write even more history for African football, had any dreams of reaching the final, they made the worst possible start when Hernandez gave France the early lead.
Jawad El Yamiq naively tried to win the ball in front of Antoine Griezmann. But his failure let the French in, with Hernandez eventually turning it in from an awkward angle after Kylian Mbappe’s initial attempt was blocked – the first goal Morocco had conceded since arriving Qatar.
It marked new territory, but it hardly knocked the stuffing out of them and it wasn’t long after when only a strong left hand from Hugo Lloris denied breakout star Azzedine Ounahi an equaliser.
Hakim Ziyech lacked conviction on his weaker right foot when presented with another chance, although Morocco were quickly saved from going further behind when Olivier Giroud cracked a powerful effort off the outside of the post – the 36-year-old raced clear of a limping Romain Saiss.
Saiss didn’t last much longer and Morocco, having started in a 5-4-1 formation, quickly reverted to the 4-3-3 that had served them so well in the previous rounds.
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Morocco grew into it as the first half progressed but France still looked as though they could score at any given moment. El Yamiq had to hook one away near the goal-line from a countering Mbappe, while Giroud then missed the target with a glorious chance following up.
Seemingly determined to make up for his early mistake, El Yamiq almost scored one of the best goals you’ll ever see in the final moments before half-time, with a spectacular overhead kick at a corner brushing Lloris’s fingertips before striking the base of the post.
Morocco had started the first half the stronger and began the second the same way, with wave after wave of attacks coming on the French goal, but without much in the way of genuinely clear chances being created. Les Bleus remained strong and Lloris and the centre-backs in front of him still managed to repel everything that came into the box.
The Atlas Lions were ultimately made to rue not making the most of their pressure, especially in a would-be sliding doors moment when substitute Abderrazak Hamdallah jinked his way through but crucially hesitated as things opened up for him and missed the chance to shoot.
It then wasn’t long before Kolo Muani had put France out of reach in a killer blow. Mbappe, who wasn’t absolutely flying overall, was again involved as he beat several Morocco defenders. As with the first goal it was his deflected shot that made the opportunity and the sub turned it in.
Morocco thought they might have had at least a consolation in stoppage time through Hamdallah, but Jules Kounde was in the right place at the right time to scoop it off the line.
GK: Hugo Lloris – 8/10 – Had to make a number of saves, including several very good ones, which laid the foundations for this win.
RB: Jules Kounde – 7/10 – Not much of an attacking threat from full-back but defended as and when he needed to. Cleared one off the line in stoppage time.
CB: Raphael Varane – 6/10 – Passed out from the back well.
CB: Ibrahima Konate – 7/10 – Stepped in to replace Dayot Upamecano and was impressive in the way he repeatedly intercepted and cleared the ball.
LB: Theo Hernandez – 7/10 – His goal was a feat of impressive improvisation to get his foot over the ball and turn it from the height it was.
CM: Aurelien Tchouameni – 7/10 – Passed accurately for the most part and gave a disciplined performance in the middle of the pitch.
CM: Youssouf Fofana – 7/10 – Thrashed at a decent chance to make it 2-0 and comfortable before it actually was. Missed the target with another good position but carried the ball forward well in the build up to the second French goal.
RM: Ousmane Dembele – 6/10 – Pretty quiet given the decent tournament he’s had.
AM: Antoine Griezmann – 9/10 – Pulled creative strings from the ‘number 10’ role, including the chance that gave France their early goal. DIdn’t neglect defensive discipline either.
LM: Kylian Mbappe – 8/10 – His pace obviously made him a threat. Looked like he would beat the whole Morocco defence in the move that gave France their killer second.
ST: Olivier Giroud – 7/10 – Hit the outside of the post and also missed the target from a great positon in the first half alone.
SUB: Marcus Thuram (65′ for Giroud) – 6/10
SUB: Randal Kolo Muani (78′ for Dembele) – 7/10
Didier Deschamps – 8/10 – Forced into changes in defence and midfield from the quarter-final win over England. His team’s discipline and clinical nature has got them to another World Cup final.
GK: Bono – 5/10 – Could do previous little about either goal.
RB: Achraf Hakimi – 7/10 – Started to link up really well with Ziyech as Morocco built some momentum either side of half-time.
CB: Achraf Dari – 7/10 – Drafted in as a last minute replacement for Nayef Aguerd.
CB: Romain Saiss (c) – N/A – Appeared to be struggling before the game started and lasted only 21 minutes.
CB: Jawad El Yamiq – 7/10 – Rollercoaster night. Guilty of the mistake that gave France their opportunity to break the deadlock only a few minutes in. Later made other vital blocks and tackles, and even hit the post with a spectacular bicycle kick.
LB: Noussair Mazraoui – 5/10 – Another who was a doubt coming into this one and not himself. Didn’t reappear for the second half after a fairly reserved first 45 minutes.
RM: Hakim Ziyech – 7/10 – Didn’t exploit the space on the right enough in the first half but became more involved as the game progressed.
CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 7/10 – Patrolled the midfield exactly as he has done all tournament.
CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 8/10 – Forced a good save out of Lloris not long after France had scored first and was always trying to make things happen for his team.
LM: Sofiane Boufal – 7/10 – Looked a good outlet but was withdrawn surprisingly early. The fact he was carrying a yellow card might have been a factor.
ST: Youssef En-Nesyri – 5/10 – Saw precious little of the ball in a thank-less performance, with Morocco preferring to primarily attack down the flanks.
SUB: Selim Amallah (21′ for Saiss) – 7/10
SUB: Yahia Attiyat Allah (46′ for Mazraoui) – 7/10
SUB: Abderrazzak Hamdallah (66′ for En-Nesyri) – 7/10
SUB: Zakaria Aboukhlal (66′ for Boufal) – 6/10
SUB: Abde Ezzalzouli (78′ for Amallah) – 6/10
Walid Regragui – 8/10 – Changed the system to begin with, while it was the emotional decision to try and start with both Nayef Aguerd, withdrawn right before kick-off, and Romain Saiss. Morocco were better after reverting to their usual shape and the subs did make a positive impact. What might have been on another day…
Player of the match – Antoine Griezmann (France)
England will be considered failures if we don’t win Euro 2024
England defender Harry Maguire has revealed he will head to Euro 2024 with the mindset that anything less than winning the competition will be a failure.
The Three Lions have cemented their status as a strong tournament team over the last half-decade under the guidance of Gareth Southgate.
After reaching the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in 2018, England were only denied victory at Euro 2020 on penalties against Italy in the final.
There were high hopes that they could go all the way at the 2022 World Cup over the winter, but were narrowly beaten by reigning champions France in a hard-fought quarter-final.
England kicked off their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win at Italy, and speaking to the press post-match, Maguire revealed his ambitions for glory in Germany next summer.
“I think for me, at my age as well, 30 years old now, I’m with a mindset of, ‘If we don’t win the tournament, it’s been a failure’,” he said.
“We’ve got to qualify first – I mean it’s a tough group, [but] we’ve come here and got an amazing result.
“But that’s my mindset. I’ve been at three major tournaments now and I’ve come so close. I believe we have the players to win it. We went into Qatar wanting to win the tournament. So ultimately, when we get knocked out, as a squad we’re disappointed. The performances were good, we kept the most clean sheets at the tournament, we were one of the top goalscorers despite going out in the quarter-final.
“I’m speaking on behalf of myself but I know from speaking to the other lads as well, they were really pleased that Gareth stayed [on as manager]. We’ve built something as a group and he’s been the leader of it. He’s been the one who’s given us hope and given us belief as a country to be successful in these major tournaments and, for sure, it benefits us for us for him to be in charge.
“These big tournaments are decided on the finest margins. We played really well in the World Cup and ultimately, we got knocked out by a good French team. A French team that we believe we can take on and if we play them ten times, we would give them a good game ten times and probably win more than we lose.
“However, they’ve proven over the years that they manage to get the job done better than England do. So it’s something that we’re working on. We have so much talent and so many young players coming through.”
Maguire recognised that England were simply beaten at the 2022 World Cup by a more experienced and successful international side in France.
Despite reservations over Didier Deschamps, the 54-year-old has an incredible tournament record – to have won one final and lost two others is a far better record than most other coaches in the history of football.
England hope to be on a similar path with Southgate, but as Maguire insisted, they need to win a tournament if they’re to be remembered fondly and without tinges of regret.
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