AL KHOR, Qatar — In terms of quality, it was not a game that will be remembered by many at all. France–Morocco at Al-Bayt stadium on Wednesday night didn’t reach the heights or drama many had hoped, despite the wonderful atmosphere created by the fans in red and green.
It was entertaining, for sure, but that was about it. The French players won’t care though; it was a game that had to be won, regardless of how. It was a semifinal of a big tournament and they know how to deal with that. France have won the last six they have played (1998, 2000, 2006, 2016, 2018, 2022) at the World Cup or Euros. Basically, when they are in the last four they always qualify for the final.
For the fourth time in the last seven World Cups, they will compete for football’s ultimate prize. That’s some achievement in itself, but this side have an incredible opportunity to go back-to-back as well.
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As goalkeeper Hugo Lloris pointed out, his team “suffered” to get there. This is part of their DNA; this is what they do. They control games, which means at times they are put under pressure, but they always find a way to win. They are not blowing teams away, they are not spectacular, they are not sexy or fancy. But Les Bleus win. They are the most efficient and resilient side in the world and have been for four years.
Their adventure might end in tears as they watch Lionel Messi lift his first and last World Cup on Sunday night but you would not put it past them to cause another heartbreak, like with heroic Morocco on Wednesday. Denying Messi a world crown would be cruel but that’s part of the game. France would have to play better than on Wednesday but then again, they still dismantled Morocco, the surprise package of this incredible tournament — something that Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal could not do.
It was a game in which France coach Didier Deschamps and his men didn’t do anything great, but didn’t do anything wrong either. This is their mantra. They don’t make mistakes but they capitalise on the other team making some.
For the second game in a row, after England in the quarterfinal, France didn’t play well but managed to see it through. They were not under as much pressure as against England, but these two games showed what this team is about. Ruthlessness, killer instinct, mental strength, calm in the storm — call it what you want, the French have it.
Deschamps, who in 10 years at the helm has now reached a quarterfinal (2014), final (2016), won (2018), round of 16 (2021), and is now a finalist at least (2022), tells his players all the time: “It is all about winning.” And he is right. You don’t have to play well. You will suffer and you will have to ride the tough times … but they all know exactly how to do it.
“It was not perfect. We struggled at times and we are tired but this is what it takes to reach another final,” Lloris told the media after France’s win on Wednesday.
Deschamps has created a monster. Even without the injured Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Presnel Kimpembe, Lucas Hernandez and Christopher Nkunku, Les Bleus don’t stray from their objective and their methods. They are cold-blooded assassins.
Rob Dawson praises Morocco’s performance at the World Cup after their 2-0 loss to France in the semifinals.
“Four years ago, after beating Belgium in the semifinal, I was crying in the dressing room,” explained Antoine Griezmann after the game. “This time, I was already focused on Sunday, recovering and preparing well for the final.”
This current squad contains only nine players from the one which won the 2018 World Cup — Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Alphonse Areola, Raphael Varane, Benjamin Pavard, Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele — but they have transmitted their values and experience to the new generation. Though this 2022 squad resembles the 2018 one: they play and fight the same way; they defend and attack the same way.
“We are a team who knows how to suffer. They passed on the recipe,” defender Jules Kounde said after the game.
To win this World Cup and to write themselves into history as only the third team to win back-to-back titles (with Italy 1934-1938 and Brazil 1958-1962) they will have to play better against Argentina than they did against England and Morocco. But they have shown that when they need to step it up and accelerate, they can. Mbappe is the perfect example, he doesn’t shine during the whole 90 minutes and his absence of defensive work often disrupts the balance of the French team, but every time he touches the ball, something happens and he becomes dangerous. Mbappe is the X-factor, but in the same mindset as the rest of the squad.
To twist England legend Gary Lineker’s famous words about Germany always winning, we could, right now, claim that football is simple a game where 22 players chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, France are in the final.