The second half of the knockout round was star-studded, with teams that have collected 10 major tournament (World Cup and UEFA European Championship) wins under their belt, including France (Two World Cups and Two UEFA European Championships), Spain (One World Cup and Three UEFA European Championships), England (One World Cup) and Portugal (One UEFA European Championship). On the other hand, this half of the competition also witnessed the most surprising story in the history of the World Cup in the form of Morocco, which became the first and only nation from the African continent to reach the semifinal of the quadrennial tournament.
Morocco’s Journey So Far
The Atlas Lions were placed in Group F, alongside World No. 2 Belgium and the 2018 FIFA World Cup runner-up, Croatia; Many have predicted that they would end up third-best in the group, but little did they know Morocco will eventually become the group winner with two wins and a draw, including a famous victory over the Red Devils.
Finishing top of Group F meant they face Group E’s runner-up in the Round of 16, but not even the 2010 FIFA World Cup champion can stop them from becoming the fourth African country to reach the quarterfinal of the World Cup, after both teams battled out for more than 120 minutes and Morocco won on penalties. They faced Spain’s neighbour, Portugal next, and the latter was not able to find the net against the Atlas Lions either, allowing Morocco to become the first member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to be in the last four stage of the competition.
France’s Journey So Far
Morocco’s semifinal opponent and the defending world champion France’s title defence was clouded by a series of injuries prior and during the campaign, but these worries did not affect them from beating both Australia and World No. 10 Denmark in their opening two matches in Qatar. With qualification to the next round already secured, Les Bleus fielded a weakened squad and lost to Tunisia in their final group match.
Two wins and a loss allowed Didier Deschamps’ side to face Group C’s runner-up in the last 16 stage, Poland, a match that saw Olivier Giroud become France’s all-time top scorer in their 3-1 win over Robert Lewandowski’s side. Their following match was by far the toughest one as they had to fend off a fierce Three Lions squad who had two times more shots and approximately 60% possession in the entire game. France had to survive a late scare from England after they led the game twice, with Kane missing the second penalty to equalise for Southgate’s men once again.
Sixth Meeting Between the Two
France vs Morocco on Wednesday will be the sixth official matchup between the two, with Les Bleus leading their head-to-head record with three wins. Nonetheless, knowing how many records the Atlas Lions had already broken in this tournament, France will not take things lightly and shall keep their firing power intact.
France is currently the third-best scoring team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, with 11 goals in five matches while Morocco, on the other hand, has the best defensive record, with only one goal conceded in five matches. It is interesting to see whether the provisional top scorer of the competition, Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé, who was restricted by English defenders in the last game, is able to unleash his attacking strength against the defence led by his club teammate, Achraf Hakimi, and continue to leave his mark on the World Cup history; The 23-year-old forward currently has nine goals in two World Cups, seven tallies shy from Miroslav Klose’s all-time goal scoring record in the World Cup.
(Photo Credits: CTV News)