France dismantled a World Cup dream as they edged closer to realizing their own as the thrill ride that was Morocco’s campaign in Qatar came to a painful end at Al Bayt Stadium.
On a night of raw emotion and a cacophony of noise in Al Khor, holders France put an end to romantic notions of this tournament’s glorious surprise package, Morocco going even further than they had already done by becoming the first African country to reach the semi-finals.
The magnificent support of Morocco, who swarmed Doha by the thousands to splash the stadium in red, stood tearful but proud as France finally spoke of class and efficiency, striking at either end of a thrilling encounter to win 2-0.
As the Moroccan players, staff and their inspirational coach Walid Regragui received a prolonged and well-deserved standing ovation in front of those adoring fans with their dreams shattered, so another temptingly appeared for Sunday’s final at Lusail Stadium.
Namely that of France v Argentina, and Kylian Mbappe v Lionel Messi.
Both men play for French side Paris St-Germain. The 23-year-old Frenchman is aiming for his second World Cup winner’s medal while the Argentinian genius 12 years his senior has one last chance to claim the crown which would further bolster his claims of being the greatest ever to play at the Game.
Mbappe’s status would be further boosted by successive World Cup triumphs as France aim to become the first country to retain the trophy, even though it is now actually a different piece of silverware, during 60 years after Brazil won it in Sweden in 1958 and Chile four years. later.
He was a goalscorer when France beat Croatia 4-2 in Moscow in 2018 and has the power to add to his tally now and in the future. Pelé is the only man with three winners’ medals. Only 21 men, including Pelé, have won more than one. It opens remarkable possibilities for the French striker.
For Messi, the context is different.
He’s at the end of a career in which he’s won everything the game has to offer except for that one big gap in his collection of honors. It’s the biggest of them all, the World Cup, and it’s now or never after he lost the 2014 final to Germany in Rio.
It’s Messi’s last World Cup game and Sunday is the day that could top it all off, providing the perfect end to his story with Argentina. Anything else would be hopeless and hollow for his country’s great sporting icon.
The World Cup final could be one for the ages and proof of what we saw in Qatar, it’s too close to call. It might even come down to a moment of genius from the two players most likely to provide it.
France got the job done in two tough knockout matches against England in the quarter-finals and here against Morocco.
They were tested in both their different ways, England with the attacking threat they had and Morocco with their sheer unwillingness to give in to adversity bolted to a lot of skill, but they came out the other side successfully.
The French had plenty of composure here despite Morocco pressing, their goals coming after five minutes from Theo Hernandez and the second from substitute Randal Kolo Muani, just 44 seconds after coming on, the third-fastest goal ever. a replacement in the world. Historic cup and its first for France.
And for coach Didier Deschamps, Sunday’s final offers a place in history and the chance to add further decoration to his magnificent career.
The 54-year-old, nicknamed ‘The Water Carrier’ by his French team-mate Eric Cantona for his tireless style and ability to win possession for other supposedly more glamorous team-mates, led his country to the Cup of the world at home. ground in 1998.
Deschamps is only the fourth manager to lead a nation to consecutive World Cup finals after Vittorio Pozzo with Italy in 1934 and 1938, Carlos Bilardo with Argentina in 1986 and 1990 and Franz Beckenbauer with Germany in 1986 and 1990. He would be only the second after Pozzo to win it twice.
He conducted his business in the usual low-key fashion despite losing Ballon d’Or-winning striker Karim Benzema almost as France landed in Qatar, with 36-year-old Olivier Giroud stepping into the breach.
Even here at this World Cup pressure point, he lost Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano to illness, the latter superbly replaced by Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konate to give Deschamps a tasty selection problem on Sunday.
And so the World Cup comes down to that.
France versus Argentina. In the eyes of many, Mbappe versus Messi.
It’s the World Cup final that many predicted and the personal duel between two long-awaited big names.