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World Cup semi-final: Morocco faces biggest test against France

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France face Morocco in a World Cup 2022 semifinal that pits the defending world champions against this year’s underdog story.

France have Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud. Morocco have the hopes and dreams of Africa and the entire Arab world, not to mention the support of most neutrals.

Whatever happens in the game, history will be made at Al Bayt Stadium, the giant Bedouin tent in Al Khor, with Morocco the first Arab or African nation to make it to the semifinals of a World Cup.

The French are overwhelmingly the favourites in this match, but Morocco have claimed some notable scalps on their way here – Belgium, Spain and Portugal were all talked about as serious contenders for the title, and all fell to the Atlas Lions. Morocco’s coach Walid Regragui on Tuesday made clear that his side were going to try their best to pull off another “upset” in their fairytale run.

Walid Cheddira is suspended for the semifinal after being sent off in the win over Portugal, while captain Romain Saiss is a potential injury concern for Morocco in defence. Having missed the quarterfinal, it’s not yet clear if Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui will be fighting fit in time for Wednesday’s match.

Morocco’s place in the semifinal isn’t down to luck. It’s down to sheer hard work, grit, determination and talent. They deserve to be here just as much as anyone else. Morocco have not fluked it – they should now be considered one of the footballing world’s top sides. You do not make it to a World Cup semifinal by chance.

And then there’s France. This extraordinary team, missing many of its star players, yet with the depth to produce absolute champagne football. They have flair, consistency and muscle. Plus, they’ve been here before. Head coach Didier Deschamps is one of only three men to have won the World Cup both as a player and as a manager.

France’s play has been hallmarked by speed and attack. Mbappe streaks away from defenders as if the ball were tied to his boot – like watching Lionel Messi a decade ago. Indeed, Mbappe is just one shy of Messi’s World Cup goal tally – but he’s only 23, and could easily be playing in another two World Cups before he even turns 32.

Giroud brings the calm experience to the attacking line; a wise head that the veteran can still use to devastating effect. Griezmann remains the all-round playmaker, directing the game with pinpoint precision.

And that’s just thinking about France’s top line. They have no suspensions among their team to worry about. Sitting deep, they’ve got such talent as Theo Hernandez, who is one of Europe’s best left-backs.

Morocco will be looking to slow the game down, control and neutralise the pace of Mbappe, and frustrate France into lapses of discipline or skill. When in possession, they’ll be hoping to put the ball at the feet of Achraf Hakimi, Mbappe’s teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, and Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, to see if the star pairing can make a little more magic for Morocco.

This will be neither team’s last game in Qatar; the losing team will still have to play arguably the worst match in any competition – the third-place playoff – at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday night.

The winners, however, go on to sport’s biggest event to face Argentina. Watched by quite possibly billions of people, the World Cup final will be held on Sunday, Qatar’s national day, at Lusail Stadium. Glory awaits.

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