‘The new Pelé’ Kylian Mbappé is about to face his greatest challenge yet

AL KHOR, Qatar — Morocco was pressing in the second half of Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal against defending champion France, and for a while, it seemed possible that the Atlas Lions’ fairytale journey to the 2022 World Cup continued.

Kylian Mbappé refused to let it go.

with the blue ones Clinging to 1-0 in the 79th minute, Mbappé turned Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Achraf Hakimi, exchanged passes with Marcus Thuram, then cut through three Moroccan defenders before slotting the ball past substitute Randal Kolo Muani , who scored France’s goal. much needed to win 2-0, finally end Morocco’s streak and advance to Sunday’s World Cup final against Lionel Messi’s Argentina (10 a.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports App).

“It wasn’t an easy win, but we showed our quality, experience and team spirit.” the blue ones Coach Didier Deschamps, whose team was visited by French President Emmanuel Macron in the dressing room afterwards, said in his post-match press conference. “We had to dig deeper in the difficult moments of the game.”

France vs. Morocco Highlights

France vs.  Morocco Highlights

France and Morocco met in the semi-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

There were a lot of them. France entered the contest as the bookies’ choice not only to beat Morocco, but also as favorites to win it all. Should Deschamps’ team succeed, they would become the first nation to repeat as champions since Brazil, led by Pelé, did so 60 years ago.

But even though the French took the lead, they didn’t give up on Theo Hernandez’s fifth-minute goal, which came after Mbappé’s initial shot was blocked, the underdogs made them very uncomfortable for most of the rest of the road It took a long time for the Moroccans to equalize before Mbappé’s moment of brilliance effectively ended with him.

They did not only face the Moroccan players. With nine out of 10 fans dressed in red and roaring their lungs out inside the 68,000-seater Al Bay Stadium, the atmosphere was decidedly hostile. Supporters of the Atlas Lions, the first African team to reach the final four, booed derisively every time France touched the ball. As a practical matter, this was an away game.

In the countryside, the blue ones Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was forced into a couple of first-half saves, the first a long-range missile save from midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, the second from defender Jawad El Yamiq’s acrobatic bicycle kick in the stoppage time that Lloris overturned. the mail

Jawad El Yamiq GAI’s bicycle kick goes in

Jawad El Yamiq GAI's bicycle kick goes in

Morocco almost got the goal of the tournament in Wednesday’s semi-final match against France.

Morocco’s attack continued in the second half, although injured captain Romain Saïss had to be substituted in the 21st minute and left-back Noussair Mazraoui continued at half-time. The French defense bent, but did not break, and eventually registered the first clean sheet of the World Cup six games so far in Qatar.

“Morocco impressed me,” said midfielder Antoine Griezmann. “In the second half, they created a lot of chances for us and caused us problems. I think our manager noticed and put markers on the left. And it was a change that helped a lot, because we were stronger in the ‘left to help defend. The fact that we scored an early goal also made things easier for us.’

Still, he knows Sunday’s game will be an even tougher challenge.

“Any team with Messi is a totally different proposition,” Griezmann said. “We’ve seen Argentina, we know how they play. They’re a tough team to play against, and they seem to be in top form. And of course, it’s not just Messi: they have a strong side around him.”

It hasn’t been said that France has a game-changing superstar of its own in Mbappé, Messi’s heir apparent as the game’s best player.

Asked about the Mbappé-Messi matchup, French-Moroccan coach Walid Regragui chimed in on the finals fans around the world are already salivating over. “Argentina has grown in confidence thanks to Messi’s brilliant play,” he said. “It will be a well-balanced game.”

Still, he made his preference clear.

“France is the best soccer country in the world,” he said. “Messi knows it’s his last chance to win a World Cup. But Mbappé is also a fantastic player, and it would be wonderful for him to go to the World Cup. We said he was the new Pelé, and if he wins the World Cup again, he would be emulating Pelé.

“And it would be great if France won because then we could say we lost to the world champions.”

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Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.

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