France defeated Morocco 2-0 in their World Cup 2022 semifinal with two plays off of Kylian Mbappe’s efforts—a Theo Hernandez volley from close range in the 5th minute and a Randal Kolo Muani tap in at the 79th minute. In both goals, it was Mbappe’s half-blocked effort that reached a better-placed teammate for the score.
All World Cup fans wanted two matches to materialize a Brazil-Argentina semifinal and a Brazil-France final. They will get second best and it will be a great showdown.
Morocco played their usual game, but they do not really have as good a Plan B as their standard defend-defend-defend-counter Plan A. So, once they fell behind early it was on to attempting to attack for nearly 100 minutes with stoppage time added. It was not their natural tendency and yet they put the French defense under duress particularly given Les Bleus’ many injuries in midfield and defense and the recent illnesses of key players. But in the end, the French defense held, albeit with a few Hugo Lloris saves and a goal-line clearance or two.
The issue is that France, like so many top teams at the World Cup over the years, plays down to the level of the competition and rarely put themselves above third gear the entire semifinal match. The difference between their output against England and Denmark remains in stark contrast to their performances against Poland (who they toyed with), Tunisia, who they did not bother to put their starters against until late in the match, and this game against Morocco.
Today, Didier Deschamps needed to put in some players to secure his win with a bit more defense and possession, but instead, Mabappe decided his team needed another goal so one of those Deschamps subs ended up scoring the second goal putting the game out of reach with a bit more flair if with little additional effort.
When France feel challenged, Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, and Olivier Giroud attack ceaselessly and are joined by their midfield. When they feel a goal or so will get them through, they wait for their chance, score, and then sit back. It is a tribute to this team that only Brazil were able to share that luxury.
On Sunday two very different finalists will meet—the French who have strolled there and yet will be forced to play in their top gear and the Argentines who have been fortunate to find a way to progress—either with a little Lionel Messi magic or stumbling-bumbling good fortune—but will have to face the first team at or above their level in their entire run to Sunday’s game.
If the pundits have their way (and truly few have been unbiased in their Albiceleste rooting) from the major media covering and filing stories from Qatar to the broadcast announcers for FS1 and Telemundo, at the game’s end we will have a second Messi coronation in as many years leading to his retirement. But France are the much better team and have yet to play at their highest level—Papa, who has had a very pedestrian prediction average this cup, believes France will pull the win in convincing fashion.
France will become the third team (after Italy and Brazil) to win back-to-back championships and do so as their super generation of stars are still another cup away from reaching their peaks. When they do the rooster on their jerseys will have three stars extending from its crest to its tail. That is a scary prospect to face for all comers to North America in 2026.
Mbappe will have been ready for it all, after all, despite some folks’ misgivings.
Photo: Kylian Mbappe, Shutterstock ID 1669991473, by Romain Biard.