France and Morocco to battle for their place in history at Qatar World Cup

France in the semi-final of the World Cup seems as natural as cafe and croissants. Didier Deschamps’ men came into the Qatar tournament as defending champions boasting world-class operators such as Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Hugo Lloris.

However, Morocco, their adversaries on Wednesday night at the Al Bayt Stadium, paraded few such talents and were regarded, along with Canada, as the cannon fodder in Group F. Croatia and Belgium were anointed for the last-16.

Morocco, though, drew with Croatia, upset Belgium 2-0 and beat Canada to claim the pool.

And following wins over a couple of other putative European powerhouses, Morocco stand one game away from Sunday’s final.

The clash for that berth to face Argentina provides the competition with a compelling array of narratives such as colonialism, immigration and continental pride.

Morocco’s squad approaches the semi-final as the first African team to reach the last four in the 92-year history of the World Cup.

History

They are also the first Arab country to advance to the last four. A particularly apt achievement with Qatar the first Middle Eastern nation to host the World Cup.

Such kinship was on vivid display following Morocco’s penalty shootout win over Spain in the last-16. Two skyscrapers in downtown Doha were lit up with the colours of the Moroccan flag.

Cars zoomed around honking horns as celebrations exploded into life around Morocco and other cities such as Paris and London with large Moroccan communities.

The Morocco team comprises players reared outside the country. The coach, Walid Regragui, was born in France.

“I’m a dual national and that’s an honour and a pleasure,” said Regragui.

Honour

“And it’s an honour and a pleasure to face France. But I’m the Morocco coach and we’re going to be playing the best team in the world. The most important thing is to get through to the final.”

With Morocco under French rule between 1912 and 1956, the colonial strand offers an intriguing diversion especially with so many of the France players descendants of people who were not born in mainland France.

The historical animosity could, suggested Lloris, fire a hostile environment in the stadium.

“The Morocco fans are going to make a lot of noise,” said the 35-year-old who will be making a record-extending 144th appearance for his country.

“It will be a raucous atmosphere. It’s going to be a tough time to concentrate in that sense, but during the match we’re going to have to remain focused.”

Feat

Deschamps – one of only three men to have won the World Cup as a player and as a coach – is attempting to join Vittorio Pozzo as the only man to lead a team to back-to-back World Cups.

Pozzo pulled off the feat with Italy in 1934 and 1938.

Nearly a century later, Deschamps’ charges have to break through a defence that has conceded only one goal in the tournament.

But at least the 54-year-old can rely on Mbappé and Olivier Giroud who have clocked up nine goals between them.

“Yes, it’s true that Morocco have been very strong in defence,” said Deschamps. “But they’re not just good at the back.

“They wouldn’t have reached the semi-finals if they were just a defensive team. They’ve shown other qualities.”

In the sixth game, Morocco have been stripped of the patronising tag of surprise package.

“I was asked if we can win the World Cup and I said: ‘Why not?'” said Regragui.

“We can dream, it doesn’t cost you anything to have dreams. European countries are used to winning the World Cup and we have played top European sides. Anyone playing us is going to be afraid of us.

“We’re going to fight to move on, for the African nations, for the Arab world,” he added.

Source: Modern Ghana