The 2022 FIFA World Cup semi-finals continue this Wednesday at the Al Bayt Stadium with a match that few of us would have ever imagined to see at this stage, as returning champions France face off against the revelation of the tournament - Morocco.
Pitting one of the best offenses in the world against the unlikeliest defense the tournament has seen so far, sparks are sure to fly as the French team attempt to make their way to their second consecutive World Cup final, while Morocco vies to continue their historic run all the way to glory.
There are very few people out there that can honestly claim to have France vs Morocco in their World Cup brackets since before the tournament began.
Not only did Morocco arrive in Qatar as only the 22nd best ranked national side in the World - with odds of 250.00 to win the tournament - but they were also drawn into one of the most difficult groups of the entire competition. Containing Croatia, another surprise semifinalist, and Belgium - ranked #2 in the world at the time - there didn’t seem to be much of a path for Morocco to make it past the group stage.
However, the north African side have impressed in their first match, where they held Croatia to a nil-nil draw thanks to an impressive defensive display. They would then deliver a huge upset as they took apart an aging Belgium side 2 - 0, later securing the first spot in their group against Canada.
If their tournament ended right there, it would already have been an impressive run for the Moroccan side. However, they were far from done.
Facing off against a Spanish side that came with great expectations for a deep run, Morocco managed to keep them at bay for 120 minutes, progressing after an impressive penalty display.
Having disposed of the Spaniards, Morocco were paired up against Portugal in the Quarterfinal round. With Portugal delivering an emphatic 6 - 1 win against Switzerland, there were expectations that the Portuguese offense would be too much for the Atlas Lions to endure.
However, the African side once again proved non-believers wrong yet again as they managed to keep the Seleção das Quinas in chains the entire match, all while managing a goal of their own to take the game 1 - 0 in regular time. This win made Morocco the first ever African side to make it to the World Cup semi-finals.
What is there to be said about this French side that hasn’t already been said? Not only have the returning champions shaken off the curse of the returning Champions by making it all the way to the semi-finals, but they have done so by routinely looking like the best team in the tournament altogether.
It’s a testament to the embarrassment of riches France boasts in their selection that, even with more than half a dozen first team players out injured, Les Bleus have been lacking in any department at any point during the cup.
Many were worried when Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema was ruled out of the tournament only a few weeks before it began, as he was one of the key pieces in France’s attack. However, one can easily argue that his presence hasn’t been greatly missed as both Oliver Giroud and Mbappe have stepped up their goal scoring duties in his absence, scoring a combined 9 goals between them.
Facing off against England in the Quarterfinals was definitely the biggest test France has faced so far. While a missed penalty may have been the difference at the end of the game, France never really looked in great danger of being knocked out during this tie.
Opening up the scoreline in the 17th minute through a long-range strike by Tchouameni, France were in control for most of the match as they thwarted England’s attacking game time and time again.
However, in the 52nd minute, Saka was judged to have been tripped by the French goalscorer Tchouameni in the area, giving Harry Kane a chance to convert a penalty and level the game. The match opened up after that and both teams had some great chances to put their side ahead, as Saka continued to wreak chaos down the right wing.
It was in the 78th minute that France would finally break the deadlock as a failed corner would make its way back to the area, where Giroud would head the ball past Pickford to put France ahead once again.
England would have one tremendous last chance to equalize when Hernandez inexplicably tackled Mount NFL-style inside the area with the ball nowhere near, earning England yet another penalty. This time, however, it was not to be as Harry Kane blasted the ball over the bar and ended England’s aspirations.
While a goal would have most likely pushed the game to extra time, France never had the score against them in the entire match and despite Saka’s ventures on the right wing, they never really did look in danger of losing the match.
Having conceded only one goal in their five games, the Morocco defense has shown itself to be one of the most talented and disciplined in international football. Other than an own-goal versus Canada, they have not conceded a goal in their entire run.
While they managed the impressive feat of closing down the Spain and Portugal forwards in the previous knockout rounds, the Moroccan defense will face its biggest challenge yet against France. The French offense - even without Benzema - has proven to be one of the most deadly and talented in the entire tournament, scoring an average of 2.2 goals per match.
Ultimately, the key to this match will be whether Morocco can neutralize the French defense long enough to score a goal of their own, or to take the game to penalties and hope for another miracle.
While it is certainly a tall order for Morocco to pull this off, at odds of 4.15 at Paf, Morocco going through to the final seems like good value for those who love a Cinderella story.