The semi-finals are upon us. We’re down to the final four as France face off against Morocco for a place in the World Cup final. Will Les Bleus return to their consecutive final, or will Morocco be the first African nation to make the final two?
It’s about time we stop calling it a fluke, or an underdog story. Morocco are good. Defensively, they’re the best side in the league, and they’re second-to-none in build-up play. If they are able to make it to the final next Sunday, it will be an outstanding achievement for a side who have had by far the toughest run of the tournament.
France have finally ended the reigning champion voodoo by reaching the semi-finals in Qatar, but without Wilton Sampaio in charge of the game will they be able to make the final? I mean no disrespect to France, who have been excellent throughout this World Cup – but my word were England are hard done by. If anyone else was in charge of that fixture, I wouldn’t be writing about them right now. Let’s give them some credit France were clinical against England. The Three Lions’ game plan to shut down Kylian Mbappe worked perfectly, but gave Antoine Griezmann far too much freedom as he put in one of the best performances of the tournament.
They held firm against Spain, they defied the odds against Portugal, can they overcome their toughest opponents yet, or will Deschamp’s side continue to prove their one of the best teams in the world?
When & Where?
Where: Al Bayt Stadium, Al-Khor, Qatar.
When: Wednesday 14th December.
Time: 19:00 pm BST
It’s been a horror couple of days for Didier Deschamps. With just 24 hours to go until kick-off, two key players have come down with sickness. Both Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot are ill and could potentially miss the game against Morocco, forcing Deschamps into two big changes he wouldn’t have wanted to make.
Morocco are also facing their fair share of injury concerns. Naif Aguerd and Romain Saiss are both injury doubts, while Walid Cheddira will miss out after being sent off late against Portugal.
I really don’t know what to expect from this game. Morocco have been so impressive in recent games that it’s getting hard to split the two. France are still the favourites but it is becoming a tough one to call.
Something Walid Regragui and his team will have to look into is, how do you stop this France side? England thought they had it all snuffed out by silencing Mbappe, but then the other French weapons just stepped up their game. Achraf Hakimi will have the responsibility of shutting down his former teammates, but Morocco will need their midfield to sit deeper and limit the room for Griezmann and Rabiot.
This tournament Morocco have proven to be the strongest side defensively, with no opposing player yet to beat Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou in net. France have all the tools they need to find a way through, but as Spain, Portugal and Belgium have found it, it’s no easy task.
When under pressure, Morocco will sit deep and look to win possession around their own box. This low block allows them to limit space and contain their opponents, but makes it difficult to progress out from. In Qatar, Morocco have been one of the best sides when it comes to playing out from the back, playing short, quick passes to move downfield at pace. If Tchouameni and Rabiot sit high up and support the four attackers there will be a lot of room for Morocco to advance, and as witnessed so far it is difficult to stop.
Premier League players to keep an eye on
France: Hugo Lloris
Looking at France’s core-group of players, there aren’t many Premier League players that stand out. Hugo Lloris is one of the few and he’s even been criticised for his club-level performances over the past couple of years. Against England, Lloris was sensational and was a candidate for man of the match. The Tottenham shot-stopper kept his country in the game, making save after save to deny the England attack. Morocco don’t have as much of an attacking threat, and largely thank their defensive performances for getting them this far, if France want a shot at a consecutive World title then Lloris needs to be prepared for whatever Morocco throw at him.
Morocco: Hakim Ziyech
One of two Premier League players in this squad, Ziyech is on the outside looking in for Chelsea, he could be on many clubs radars after an impressive tournament in the Middle East. Youssef En-Nesyri is the star man in this side, but the support from the players alongside him has helped his team pull of shock after shock in this World Cup. Playing a 4-2-3-1 France are going to compact the midfield, if Morocco want to continue to build out from the back playing it wide could be their way forward and Ziyech will be key for doing this.
France lineup vs Morocco: Lloris, Hernandez, Upamecano, Varane, Kounde, Rabiot, Tchouameni, Mbappe, Griezmann, Dembele, Giroud.
Morocco lineup vs France: Bounou, Hakimi, Yamiq, Saiss, Attiyat-Allah, Amallah, Amrabat, Ounahi, Boufal, En-Nesyri, Ziyech.