Mandatory Credit: Photo by Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse/Shutterstock (13660356bf) Doha, Qatar – sport – Soccer – Qatar 2022- Fifa World Cup -England v France – Round of 8 – Lusail Stadium. In the pic: Olivier Giroud (FRA) after goal 2-1 Qatar 2022 – FIFA World Cup – England vs France, Doha – 10 Dec 2022
World Cup Wednesday Preview: France’s 2018 title defense continues with battle vs. Cinderella Morocco
Semifinals: France (No. 4) vs. Morocco (No. 22)
When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Al Bayt Stadium (Al Khor, Qatar)
Match history: Morocco has won just once in 11 total meetings with France between 1963 to 2007. The two nations haven’t met since they drew 2-2 in a 2007 international friendly. France is 7-1-3 all-time versus Morocco, with Morocco’s lone win coming in the nations’ first-ever meeting in 1963.
Player to watch, France: Antoine Griezmann, Forward. The 31-year-old veteran of Atletico made his mark all over the pitch in France’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory over England, assisting on both goals and continuing to push the pace against a very talented English defense. Griezmann ranks in the top five for France in nearly every statistical category at the 2022 World Cup.
He’s now first in expected assists (2.05), tied for first in assists (two), fifth in total shots (six), third in shots on target (three), fourth in expected goals (0.67), fourth in chances created (eight), fourth in total passes (219), tied for second in tackles won (seven), tied for fourth in interceptions (four), and tied for second in receptions (24). Griezmann is a vital cog in all facets of the pitch for France, as opposing defenses continually strategize to stop both Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud, who have combined for nine of 11 France goals through five matches so far.
Players to watch, Morocco: Azzedine Ounahi, Midfielder. Ounahi’s name hasn’t shown up in the final box score much for the Moroccans in this World Cup, but his presence has certainly been felt on all levels of the pitch nonetheless. The rising 22-year-old midfielder leads No. 22-ranked Morocco with five chances created in five matches, two more than any other teammate and two more than each of stalwarts Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech.
Ounahi is also tied for first on the team in interceptions (seven) and also ranks third for Morocco in expected assists (0.33), fourth in total passes (159), fourth in tackles won (seven), and third in receptions (29), according to The Analyst. Ounahi’s passing and defensive awareness will surely be needed in Wednesday’s semifinal contest against the 2018 World Cup champions.
France World Cup history: This is France’s seventh World Cup semifinals appearance dating back to 1958. The French have won their last three semifinal matches, two of them resulting ultimately in World Cup titles (1998 and 2018), and another resulting in a second-place finish after a penalty kick loss to Italy in 2006. France has made the World Cup seven straight times since 1998 when they beat Brazil 3-0 in the finals after not qualifying from 1990-1994.
Mbappé has nine World Cup goals in less than two full campaigns, putting him in second place on France’s all-time World Cup goalscorers list. Giroud is also tied for fourth place on that list with five all-time World Cup goals scored, with four of those coming in Qatar. Wednesday’s semifinal game will vault Griezmann into a tie for first place in most World Cup matches played for France with Hugo Lloris (18). Giroud will also make his 17th World Cup appearance against Morocco, putting him in a tie for second place on that list, just one behind Griezmann and five ahead of Mbappé, who is already tied for 10th place ahead of his 13th World Cup match.
Morocco World Cup history: Morocco is the first African nation ever to reach the World Cup semifinals. Their World Cup history has been brief, to say the least, with just five total appearances since becoming a FIFA member in 1958. They made their first World Cup appearance in 1970, bowing out of the group stage three times and losing in the Round of 16 to West Germany in 1986. This is only the second time Morocco has qualified for a World Cup since 1998, and it’s also only their second-ever appearance in the knockout stage.
Hakimi and Ziyech already hold the record for most World Cup match appearances with eight and seven, respectively. Romain Saiss is tied for second on that list with six World Cup matches played, while Youssef En-Nesry and Sofyan Amrabat are tied for third with five apiece. En-Nesry is Morocco’s all-time leading World Cup goalscorer, with just three goals scored, two of those coming in Qatar and the other in 2018 when Morocco was eliminated in group play.
What to expect: Morocco’s 0.2 goals conceded per match and four clean sheets lead all 32 nations in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. The impenetrable force of Morocco’s defense will now meet the immovable object, which is the French offensive attack, however, in a true clash of styles for Wednesday’s semifinal contest. France leads the entire 2022 World Cup field with 15 “big chances created” on goal, according to fotmob.com, as well as leading in accurate crosses per match (7.4). Conversely, Morocco leads the field in clearances per match (27.4) and successful tackles per match (12.6). The Moroccan defense will undoubtedly be keyed in on stopping Mbappé from finding the net, but it will also have to contend with the veteran Giroud, who has been a constant threat for opposing defenses all tournament for No. 4-ranked France.
While Morocco still has yet to allow an opposing player to score a goal – their lone goal conceded this tournament was an own goal to Canada – France does indeed have the talent and depth to pull through in this matchup. Expect a gritty, physical game here, similar to most games we’ve seen from the Lions of Atlas in Qatar, but for the defending champs to reach their second straight finals in the end. France’s Achilles’ heel could be the fact they’ve conceded a World Cup-high three penalties so far, including two to England’s Harry Kane in the quarterfinals, but it might not matter as much against a Moroccan side that likes to “park the bus,” sit back and only counterattack a few times per 90 minutes. France should be able to find the net early here and sit on a lead, but if Morocco can force extra time, then it’s anyone’s game.
Chris Dell’s Prediction: France 1, Morocco 0
Wednesday, Dec. 14
- Who: France (No. 4) vs. Morocco No. 22)
- When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Al Bayt Stadium (Al Khor, Qatar)
Saturday, Dec. 17
- What: Third-Place Match
- Who: Croatia (No. 12) vs. TBD
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Khalifa International Stadium (Al Rayyan, Qatar)
Sunday, Dec. 18
- What: Finals Match
- Who: Argentina (No. 3) vs. TBD
- When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)