- Theo Hernandez gave world champions the lead with a fine volley before five minutes had even been played
- Morocco battled back though and even hit the post with a sensational overhead kick from Jawad El Yamiq
- But 44 seconds after coming off the bench Randal Kolo Muani wrapped up the game for France late on
- France will now aim to become the first team to defend the World Cup trophy since Brazil in 1962
- PLAYER RATINGS: Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe ensured class prevailed for France
- Delighted Didier Deschamps is ‘savouring every moment’ ahead of another World Cup final
- Morocco fans lauded their brave team for valiant performance as they bowed out of the tournament
DOHA -Morocco would leave Qatar with their heads held high. It was, however the feet of Theo Hernandez that held even higher, dragging France into the final of the 2022 World Cup.
What a battering the world champions took. Ultimately it was Hernandez’s fifth minute goal – the fastest in a World Cup semi-final in 64 years – that separated these teams despite the two goal margin of victory. Because of that early lead, Morocco had to keep committing more and more bodies forward, until they were eventually caught a second time.
At which point, France were safe. What preceded that moment however was often as frantic as it must have been nerve-wracking, for the small pocket of blue shirts, utterly outnumbered behind one goal.
Hernandez’s goal was worthy of such importance, mind, beautifully taken, perfectly executed. How to describe it? In two words and with one date: Gerd Muller, June 14, 1970. That iconic image of him putting the ball past Peter Bonetti mid-air to remove England from the World Cup quarter-final in Leon, having initially led West Germany 2-0.
Hernandez’s goal was an echo of Muller’s finishing, and there is no higher praise. The ultimate scoring machine emulated by the player perceived to be the weak link in this French team, who cannot even claim to be the best player in his own family. And yet, what a goal. The way he got his foot over the high ball, the way he kept it down, the despairing reaction of beaten goalkeeper Bono.
France are in a second consecutive World Cup final because they are arguably the best team here, and they have that status because there is quality throughout this team, even in reserve. Hernandez, remember, is playing in place of his brother Lucas who got injured in the opening game. And this is a squad missing N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba.
Another two starters, Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot were absent last night through illness. Yet France march on. It was tough, it was brutal – but how many matches at this stage in a tournament are won comfortably? France were made to fight. And they won the fight. It was, in its own way, hugely impressive.
It was a lovely pass from the back that set up the vital early goal, picking out Antoine Griezmann who made ground before cutting the ball back to Kylian Mbappe. He tried once, was blocked off, tried again and the ball spun out to Hernandez on the left.
It was high and difficult, but he got there, getting his technique right and defeating Bono and the defender on the line. A great goal, and a great start.
Hernandez is the first AC Milan player to score in a World Cup this century which shows that even the most storied names have no divine right to succeed. France showed their mettle with this display.
Fast forward, then, to the 78th minute, when substitute Randal Kolo Muani wrapped it up. Great skill by Mbappe again, close control in the penalty area outwitting a patched up Moroccan defence, the ball falling to Kolo Muani at the far post for his first touch of the game.
It was a goal made in Bondy, the north-eastern suburb of Paris that both players come from. And that was game over, pretty much. Impressive by France, but just as much so by Morocco, who were still striving for revival in the fourth minute of injury time when Jules Kounde was forced to clear off the line from Abderrazack Hamdallah.
Now, the overwhelming majority in the stadium will not agree, but an early French goal was probably the best thing that could have happened to this match.
It meant Morocco could not afford to play France on defence and counter-attack and had to come out and really go for it – and they showed they have the players to do this.