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France end Morocco’s World Cup journey with 2-0 win in semi-final

France have set up a heavyweight World Cup final against Argentina after an early goal by Theo Hernandez and a late one from Randal Kolo Muani ended battling Morocco’s dream run via an action-packed 2-0 semi-final victory.

Full back Hernandez stretched high after five minutes to hook on Wednesday in the first goal Morocco have conceded to an opposition player in the tournament after a scramble in the box, but the holders offered only occasional glimpses of their class.

Morocco, disrupted by early injuries to two key defenders, recovered to cause no end of problems, with Hugo Lloris brilliantly saving Jawad El Yamiq’s overhead kick at the end of the first half and the outsiders pouring forward for much of the second.

However, they could not quite fashion a clear enough chance for the equaliser and were unable to extend the astonishing run that included victories over Belgium, Spain and Portugal and made them the first African team to make the semi-finals.

France settled it in the 79th minute when a brilliant dribble by Kylian Mbappe set up Kolo Muani to tuck in the decisive goal with his first touch less than a minute after coming on.

“There’s emotion, there’s pride, there’s going to be a final step, we’ve been together with the players for a month, it’s never easy, there’s happiness so far,” said a smiling coach Didier Deschamps.

“Playing two World Cup finals in a row is an incredible moment. We did a good job, it was hard, but we are in the final. We will work hard to win this final,” Hernandez said.

France will be hugely relieved to become the first defending champions to reach successive finals since Brazil in 2002 and can now look forward to Sunday’s showdown when they will bid to follow Brazil (1962) and Italy (1938) as the third team to retain the title.

READ MORE: ‘We lost… we dominated’: Fans in Africa, Arab world praise gutsy Morocco

‘We paid for the slightest mistake’

Despite France sealing victory, Wednesday’s game still proved a close-fought match as Morocco overcame injury blows and showed no deference to France’s reputation, taking the game to them in a gallant effort that added to the glowing reputation they have earned at the tournament.

“We gave the maximum, that’s the most important,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui.

“We had some injuries, we lost Aguerd in the warm-up, Saiss, Mazraoui at halftime. We paid for the slightest mistake. We didn’t get into the game well, we had too much technical waste in the first half, and the second goal kills us, but that doesn’t take away everything we did before.”

Morocco’s exit was tempered by their achievement of becoming the first African and Arab country to reach the World Cup semi-final, a feat widely celebrated. 

They can expect to be hailed as heroes when they return home after Saturday’s third-place playoff against Croatia. 

‘Continental history’: Reaction to Morocco conquering Portugal in World Cup

READ MORE: Morocco’s Regragui breaks new World Cup ground for Africa, Arab coaches

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