DOHA: World Cup holders France will face Africa’s first-ever semi-finalists Morocco in Wednesday’s last-four clash in Qatar.
Morocco has conceded just one goal in the entire tournament – an own goal in their 2-1 win over Canada in the group stage – with Croatia, Belgium, Spain and Portugal all failing to breach a rock-solid back line.
But France boasts multiple goal threats. Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud have scored nine goals between them and Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann will also ask plenty of questions.
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Morocco has a number of fitness concerns in their defense – center-back Nayef Aguerd missed the Portugal game with a muscle injury and his regular partner, Romain Saiss, was substituted with a repeat of a hamstring injury.
Whoever Walid Regragui is able to send out will have to be fully switched on – France showed against England that even if Mbappe is neutralized there are plenty of other sources of danger.
France wary of counterattacks
It is likely that France will enjoy plenty of possession in the Moroccan half, but they will have to guard against swift counterattacks.
Morocco’s style is direct and while they tend to focus on the flanks, with Hakim Ziyech on the right and Sofiane Boufal on the left, they can also go long to striker Youssef En-Nesyri and then scamper forward in support.
France’s full-backs Jules Kounde and Theo Hernandez can expect a busy night, while Morocco will look to take advantage of any slip-ups from centre-half Dayot Upamecano, who had some shaky moments against England.
“We are well aware of their qualities, even if they don’t often have possession,” said Kounde. “They are very efficient with the ball, they try to combine quickly and find their wide players.”
Does Morocco have the legs?
Morocco spent a huge amount of energy in their wins against Spain and Portugal and with some players carrying injuries, Wednesday’s game will be a real test of their durability and stamina.
The match against Spain went to penalties while they faced a frantic second half against Portugal.
France, in contrast, have been able to take care of their knockout games without any extra-time and should be much fresher.
Didier Deschamps’ men will seek to exploit their fitnees advantage by making Morocco work hard without the ball, switching play and forcing Regragui’s team to chase the ball, especially in the early stages.
Lions roared on
France has fewer injury concerns and more attacking weapons, but Morocco will have the crowd behind them at the Al Bayt Stadium, urging them to pull off another upset.
The African side, known as the Atlas Lions, has been one of the best-supported teams in Qatar and they will benefit from huge backing on Wednesday as the first Arab team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.