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World Cup 2022: Morocco's historic run to semis ends in defeat by France

Atlas Lions push reigning world champions hard but concede in each half to lose 2-0 in Qatar
Morocco's goalkeeper Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti comforts midfielder Azzedine Ounahi at the end of the World Cup semi-final between France and Morocco on 14 December 2022.
Morocco's goalkeeper Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti comforts midfielder Azzedine Ounahi at the end of the World Cup semi-final between France and Morocco on 14 December 2022 (AFP)

Morocco's dream of reaching the World Cup final ended with a 2-0 defeat by France in Wednesday's semifinal at Qatar's Al Bayt Stadium.

The Atlas Lions pushed the reigning world champions hard, but could not recover after conceding an early goal, hooked in by Theo Hernandez after five minutes.

They conceded another when substitute Randal Kolo Muani wrapped up the game with a tap-in on 79 minutes after Kylian Mbappe caused havoc in the Moroccan defence.

Morocco's defeat ends their historic run at the tournament in which they beat Spain and Portugal in the knockout rounds to become the first African country to reach the last four, as well as gathering support from across the Arab world and beyond.

Following the match Morocco's coach Walid Regragui said "we pulled out the stops and gave everything," adding that "we did cause them problems and that is quite an achievement."

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"My players gave a very good image of the team, a showcase of their quality. It is difficult to take, they wanted to rewrite history books," said Regragui.

"You can't win a World Cup by miracles, only by hard work - and that is what we will keep doing," he added.

Morocco are only the second non-European or South American country to make it to the semifinals after South Korea reached the same stage as co-hosts in 2002.

Playoff with Croatia

Morocco will now play Croatia, with whom they drew in their opening game of the tournament, in the third place playoff on Saturday. France advance to face Argentina in Sunday's final at Lusail Stadium.

Despite falling behind so early, Morocco were constantly on the attack, putting the French team on their heels and dominating possession for long periods of the match, but they were unable to find the net.

Jawad el Yamiq went closest for Morocco with a spectacular bicycle kick which was blocked by a combination of the post and French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris just before half time.

The team have earned plenty of plaudits throughout the tournament for their energy, strong defence and attacking flair.

The Atlas Lions have also won praise from Muslim fans for displaying their Islamic beliefs by reading passages from the Quran during the games and praying on the field after their victory over Portugal, as well as for flying the Palestinian flag following each victory.

Before this World Cup, Morocco had only won two out of 15 games across five World Cup tournaments, against Scotland in 1998 and Portugal in 1986, the year the Atlas Lions made it out of the group stages for the first time.

Morocco was the only team from the Middle East and North Africa to make the last 16, after Qatar, Iran, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia were eliminated during the group stages.

In the group stages, following a spirited goalless draw against Croatia, the Atlas Lions pulled off a stunning 2-0 victory over Belgium, ranked world number two, in a pulsating match at Al-Thumama stadium. They then wrapped up first place in Group F with a convincing 2-1 win over Canada.

In the knockout rounds, they held their nerves to beat Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a goalless draw, before eliminating Portugal in the quarterfinals with a 1-0 win.

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