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France, Morocco advance to Qatar semifinals

France, Morocco advance to Qatar semifinals

FOOTBALL: Olivier Giroud continued his magnificent World Cup by scoring France’s late winner in their quarter-final against England on Saturday (Dec 10) while Morocco defeated Portugal to become the first African country ever to reach the last four at Coupe du Monde.


Sunday 11 December 2022, 09:56AM

Morocco players celebrate their win over Portugal which made them the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP

Morocco players celebrate their win over Portugal which made them the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP

Defending champions

France are now just two games away from becoming the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy after Giroud’s fourth goal of the tournament sunk an impressive England side in a titanic battle at Al Bayt Stadium.

The holders took the lead through Aurelien Tchouameni but were pegged back early in the second half and were on the ropes for long spells before Giroud headed in the decisive goal in the 78th minute to seal a 2-1 victory.

France had considerably less possession, half as many attempts on goal and got lucky late on as Harry Kane –- having earlier scored from the spot -– blazed an 84th-minute penalty over the bar.

And Giroud later said the game brought back memories of his team’s semi-final in Russia four years ago, when they edged out Belgium 1-0 in Saint-Petersburg before going on to beat Croatia and lift the trophy.

"This match reminds me of the Belgium game in 2018, even if the scenario is a bit different because England came back and believed in their chances and pushed forward," Giroud said.

"We showed superb spirit and worked so hard for each other. It is the same spirit as in 2018 and I hope we go as far as possible because this group is capable of great things."

Giroud was a non-scoring member of the 2018 team but at 36 he is enjoying a memorable tournament in Qatar having earlier overtaken Thierry Henry to become France’s all-time top scorer.

French performance in Qatar also contrasts starkly with the trend at recent World Cups, with Italy, Spain and Germany going out of the last three tournaments as holders in the first round.

"The recent record of the holders has been rather negative so we can be pleased at reversing that trend," said coach Didier Deschamps, whose team will now be strongly fancied to beat Morocco in the last four.

"We are getting closer but now we have a very important next step and that is on Wednesday against Morocco. We can be satisfied with what we have done without settling for this," Deschamps added.

First from Africa

Morocco coach Walid Regragui lauded the battling spirit of his injury-hit side after they beat Portugal 1-0 on Saturday to become the first African country ever to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

Youssef En-Nesyri’s header late in the first half sent the Atlas Lions through to a last-four showdown with reigning champions France.

"We came up against a really great Portugal team. We’re drawing on all we have, we still have guys injured. I told the guys before the match we had to write history for Africa. I’m very, very happy," Regragui told France’s TF1.

Regragui, a France-born former Morocco international, had already made history of his own as the first African coach to take a team into the World Cup quarter-finals.

Morocco have now defeated three of Europe’s strongest teams in Qatar beating Belgium in the group stage and Spain on penalties in the last 16 after drawing 0-0 with 2018 runners-up Croatia in their opening match.

Winger Sofiane Boufal hopes there is more to come.

"It’s crazy. We’re living and dream and we don’t want to wake up. I have goosebumps," he said.

"Everything we have, we deserve. We work hard. It’s not over. There’s still the semi-final and god willing, the final."

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