Analysis: Tactical masterplan, and grit, take France into World Cup final
AL KHOR, Qatar, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Mike Tyson claimed that everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face, which is precisely what happened to Morocco when they were bounced out of the World Cup in a 2-0 defeat by heavyweights France in their semi-final clash on Wednesday.
Morocco, the first African side to reach the last four of the World Cup, had built their success on brilliant defending and fast counter attacks, but they got a taste of their own medicine when France abandoned possession early on and struck after five minutes.
Theo Hernandez's high hooked finish from a deflected Kylian Mbappe shot put the defending champions ahead and forced Walid Regragui's team to take the initiative, ending the game with more possession than Les Bleus.
Nayef Aguerd and captain Romain Saiss, who were not 100% fit, were replaced just before kickoff and early in the first half respectively, leaving Morocco to abandon plan B, and go for plan C after just 21 minutes.
While they showed they were lively in attack, as Hugo Lloris had to stretch to parry away Azzedine Ounahi's fierce 25-metre strike, Morocco were exposed and Olivier Giroud went close on the counter when his brutal shot crashed onto the post.
Regragui had noted on Tuesday that France were tactical masters and able to adjust to any opponents as he praised Didier Deschamps as the best coach in the world.
What Deschamps might not have anticipated, however, was how Morocco would also be able to switch tactics and play brilliantly with the ball, with El Yaqim's bicycle kick hitting Lloris's right-hand post on the stroke of halftime.
Morocco pushed hard after the break, giving Mbappe more and more space off the left flank. The Paris St Germain forward then switched to a lone-striker role when Marcus Thuram replaced Giroud on 65 minutes.
In previous games, Belgium, Spain and Portugal had been unable to match Morocco's grit, but on Wednesday, France showed they were also able to fight tooth and nail and rely on players going above and beyond.
Hernandez's goal was a telling example, as it was the fourth of France's last five in World Cup-semi-finals to be scored by a defender after Lilian Thuram's double in the 2-1 win against Croatia in 1998 and Samuel Umtiti's header in the 1-0 victory against Belgium in 2018.
Substitute Randal Kolo Muani poked the ball home 11 minutes from time with his first touch after some brilliant work by Mbappe.
That wrapped a win that reminded everyone of France's tournament nous and that Argentina better come up with a masterplan of their own in Sunday's final at Lusail stadium.
Just like Belgium were left frustrated by their defeat to France four years ago in Russia, Morocco might feel they were the better team on the day.
Yet France once again barged into the final like a regular at a nightclub who gets in without a look from the bouncer.
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