Morocco takes on France at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, on Wednesday, with a coveted place in the World Cup final up for grabs.
Morocco shocked everyone with successive victories against Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages, not to mention the 2-0 win over Belgium in the group stages. No African team has made it this far in the World Cup, and with a whole continent behind them, they will hope to continue breaking records.
France will be hoping to become just the seventh team to make it to back-to-back finals. Les Bleus have not had the ideal World Cup, losing Lucas Hernandez and Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema to injury, but the squad's depth has been put on display: Lucas’ younger brother Theo replaced him without much drop-off, while Olivier Giroud’s swansong has become one of the tournament’s best stories.
Morocco Key Player: Youssef En-Nesyri
En-Nesyri has only two shots on target so far this tournament, and both resulted in goals, but his towering header above Portugal's Rúben Dias and Diogo Costa in the quarterfinals is an example of why he may be key against France.
With France likely to dominate possession and continue their solid defensive play, set pieces, hold-up play and transitions will likely be key for Morocco. En-Nesyri has an 80.5 shooting grade and a 75.3 aerial-duel grade for the tournament — he will be important in those key aspects of this game.
France’s starting center-backs have had varying degrees of success in the air this World Cup, Raphaël Varane earning a 74.4 aerial-duel grade and Dayot Upamecano struggling to a mark of just 59.5, so Morocco might be better off attacking France through the air rather than trying to break Didier Deschamps' men down.
France Key Player: Antoine Griezmann
Kylian Mbappé may attract the most attention for his electric pace, while Giroud grabs the headlines for his resurgence and classic center-forward play. However, Griezmann has arguably been the player of the tournament so far. His 90.9 passing grade leads all players, and his 3.3 chances created per 90 minutes is second only to Serbia’s Dušan Tadić.
With France likely to dominate possession and Morocco settling into their signature low block, it will take a player with Griezmann’s distribution ability to break through the defense.
Matchup to watch: Kylian Mbappé vs. Achraf Hakimi
This match-up between PSG teammates will be well-studied, as both players may be the best in the world at their respective positions.
With Mbappé often providing the spark for France’s attacks from his left-wing spot, we will likely see lots of one-on-one interactions between the two. So far, Hakimi has an 84.3 challenge grade, so he is in good form to face Mbappé.
Mbappé’s 81.6 shooting grade is the best among wingers left in the tournament. If Hakimi can shut him down, that removes an important avenue of attack for France. However, if Mbappé gets the better of Hakimi, that can unsettle and expose weaknesses in Morocco’s disciplined low block.