‘The new Pelé’ Kylian Mbappé is about to face his best problem but

AL KHOR, Qatar — Morocco was pouring on the strain within the second half of Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal towards defending champion France, and for some time, it appeared doable that the Atlas Lions’ fairytale journey on the 2022 World Cup would proceed.

Kylian Mbappé refused to let it occur.

With Les Bleus clinging to a 1-0 lead within the 79th minute, Mbappé spun Paris Saint-Germain teammate Achraf Hakimi, exchanged passes with Marcus Thuram, then sliced by means of three Moroccan defenders earlier than dishing the ball to substitute Randal Kolo Muani, who scored the insurance coverage objective France so desperately wanted to win 2-0, lastly finish Morocco’s run, and advance to Sunday’s World Cup remaining towards Lionel Messi’s Argentina (10 a.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports activities app).

“It wasn’t an easy victory, but we showed our quality and experience and team spirit,” Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps, whose staff was visited by French president Emmanuel Macron within the locker room afterward, mentioned in his postgame press convention. “We had to dig deep in the challenging moments in the match.”

France vs. Morocco highlights

France vs. Morocco highlights

France and Morocco confronted off within the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

There have been loads of these. France got here into the competition because the bookies’ choose not simply to beat Morocco however the favourite to win all of it. Ought to Deschamps’ staff succeed, it might grow to be the primary nation to repeat as champs since Pelé-led Brazil did it 60 years in the past.

However though the French took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish on Theo Hernandez’s fifth-minute objective — which got here after Mbappé’s preliminary shot was blocked — the underdogs made them extraordinarily uncomfortable many of the remainder of the best way. There was loads of time left for the Moroccans to equalize till Mbappé’s second of brilliance successfully ended it.

It wasn’t simply the Moroccan gamers they have been up towards. With 9 out of each 10 followers clad in pink and raucously cheering their lungs out contained in the jam-packed 68,000-seat Al Bay Stadium, the environment was decidedly hostile. Supporters of the Atlas Lions — the primary African staff ever to succeed in the ultimate 4 — whistled derisively each time France touched the ball. As a sensible matter, this was an away sport.

On the sector, Les Bleus keeper Hugo Lloris was pressured right into a pair of top-shelf first-half saves, the primary a diving cease on a long-range missile by midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, the second on defender Jawad El Yamiq’s acrobatic bicycle kick in stoppage time that Lloris tipped into the publish.

Jawad El Yamiq’s bicycle kick ALMOST goes in

Jawad El Yamiq's bicycle kick ALMOST goes in

Morocco practically had the objective of the event in Wednesday’s semifinal sport towards France.

Morocco’s onslaught continued within the second half, regardless that injured captain Romain Saïss needed to be substituted within the twenty first minute and left again Noussair Mazraoui adopted on the intermission. France’s protection bent however didn’t break, although, and ultimately registered the World Cup holders’ first clear sheet although six matches in Qatar to date.

“Morocco impressed me,” mentioned midfielder Antoine Griezmann. “In the second half, they created a lot of opportunities and caused problems for us. I think our coach realized and put markers on the left. And that was a change that really helped, because we were stronger on the left flank to help to defend. The fact that we scored an early goal made things easier for us as well.”

Nonetheless, he is aware of Sunday’s match will pose a good stiffer problem.

“Any team with Messi is a totally different proposition,” Griezmann mentioned. “We’ve seen Argentina, we know how they play. They’re a difficult team to face, and they seem to be on top form. And of course there isn’t only Messi — they have a strong side around him.”

Left unsaid was that France has a game-changing famous person of its personal in Mbappé, the inheritor obvious to Messi as the sport’s best participant. 

Requested in regards to the Mbappé-Messi matchup, French-born Moroccan coach Walid Regragui weighed in on the ultimate followers throughout the globe are already salivating over. “Argentina has grown in confidence thanks to Messi’s brilliant play,” he mentioned. “It will be a well-balanced match.”

Nonetheless, he made his choice clear.

“France is the top footballing country in the world,” he mentioned. “Messi knows that it’s his last opportunity to win a World Cup. But Mbappé is also a fantastic player, and it would be wonderful for him 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 might be nice if France received as a result of then let’s imagine we misplaced to the world champion.”

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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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