France set up a World Cup final against Argentina after goals from Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani secured a 2-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday.
Didier Deschamps’ side became the first defending champions since Brazil in 1998 to return to the final at the next edition with another efficient performance at Al Bayt Stadium.
Hernandez struck as France raced into a fifth-minute lead against Africa’s first World Cup semi-finalists, although Morocco were in the ascendancy for large parts.
That pressure brought no reward, and substitute Kolo Muani’s 79th-minute second ensured France’s bid to become just the third side to retain their global crown continued into Sunday’s final against Argentina.
Hernandez fired France into an early lead after Kylian Mbappe twice saw efforts blocked, the second deflection falling to the left-back to expertly finish at the back post.
Olivier Giroud smashed a left-footed strike against Yassine Bounou’s right post before whipping wide from a glorious opportunity after Jawad El Yamiq denied Mbappe with a last-ditch clearance.
El Yamiq almost levelled with a sensational overhead kick from Hakim Ziyech’s corner on the stroke of half-time, only to be denied by a stretching Hugo Lloris and his right post.
Raphael Varane produced a vital intervention to thwart Youssef En-Nesyri after the interval as Deschamps’ men were pinned back, before France sealed victory with 11 minutes remaining.
A deflected Mbappe strike rolled into the path for Kolo Muani, just off the bench, to tap in at the far post as Morocco’s fairytale run came to an end.
What does it mean? Les Bleus on brink of rare feat
France narrowly edged past England in an enthralling quarter-final and were again ruthless against Morocco, recording their fourth straight World Cup semi-final victory (also in 1998, 2006 and 2018).
Walid Regraguis’s Morocco had defeated Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route to the last four after resolute defensive performances, but France proved too great a hurdle.
The final test for Les Bleus awaits in the form of Lionel Messi and Argentina as they aim to join Italy (1938) and Brazil (1962) as the only sides to successfully retain their crown.
Hernandez’s opener, timed at four minutes and 39 seconds, was the fastest World Cup semi-final goal since 1958 when Vava struck for Brazil against France.
The Milan defender, scrutinised after the England game and still largely without help from Mbappe, was also tasked with managing the energetic Ziyech and impressed by winning seven of his eight duels and gaining possession from each of his four tackles.
Injuries haunt defiant Morocco
Nayef Aguerd, Roman Saiss and Noussair Mazraoui were all injury doubts heading into this clash. All were initially named in the XI, but Aguerd did not appear, Saiss bowed out before half-time and Mazraoui was replaced at the break.
A fitness gamble by Regragui did not pay off, with Mazraoui winning just one of his six duels before his half-time removal and Saiss’ injury almost costing Morocco as Giroud broke away to strike the post in the first half.
Key Opta Facts
– France have reached the World Cup final for a fourth time, all since 1998 (1998, 2006, 2018, 2022). This is twice as many as any other nation in this period.
– Deschamps is only the fourth coach to lead a nation to back-to-back World Cup finals, after Vittorio Pozzo with Italy (1934, 1938), Carlos Bilardo with Argentina (1986, 1990) and Franz Beckenbauer with Germany (1986, 1990).
– African nations have now lost 10 of their 13 World Cup knockout ties against European opposition (W2 D1); Morocco this year had been responsible for two of the three exceptions (0-0 v Spain in round of 16, 1-0 v Portugal in quarter-final).
– France have won all seven of their World Cup knockout games since the start of the 2018 tournament. In World Cup history, only Brazil from 1958 to 1970 (nine) have ever had a longer winning run in knockout matches at the finals (excluding first group, second group and final group but including group play-off matches).
France will meet Argentina at Lusail Stadium in four days’ time, while Morocco face Croatia in a third-place play-off on Saturday at Khalifa International Stadium.