One down, one to go. After their best performance thus far, Argentina downed Croatia 3-0 behind yet another magical Messi display and a statement game from Julian Alvarez. Who will meet Messi and company this weekend to fight for soccer’s ultimate prize?
Wednesday’s matchup sees two very different sides squaring off. France, the two-time world champs and current holders of the title, and they are stacked with talent once again. In fact, if you split their squad in half, the French could probably produce two teams good enough to win the World Cup. Alas, this is — thankfully — not allowed. The likes of Kylian Mbappe up top and Hugo Lloris in the net have proven that this team can do just about anything.
After escaping the champion’s curse in the group stages, France continued their dominance. Their 3-1 battering of Poland put their full arsenal of attacking talent on display, but it also showed the solidity of their team shape when defending. Through four games, this team looked on course to repeat as world champions.
Following their quarter-final match against England, the narrative has changed. Frailties were exposed in the back, allowing England to stick around longer than the French would have liked. When faced with quality opposition, Les Bleus struggled to defend 1v1. With Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech standing in their way, there could be trouble ahead for the defending champs.
On the other side of the coin, Morocco represents the ultimate underdog. They’ve already made history as the first African nation to advance to the World Cup semi-finals, a feat that will be enough to immortalize this team in soccer lore. However, the fight and desire shown by this team has made one thing abundantly clear: they aren’t here for consolation prizes.
With the trophy almost in touching distance, the Atlas Lions should believe that they have a real chance of usurping the champs on their way to glory. Through five matches, the Moroccan defense has not allowed a single goal to be scored by another team, with their only goal conceded coming from an own-goal. This isn’t a fluke; the organization, effort, and skill of this Moroccan defense has been truly world-class. Mbappe and Giroud are going to be hard-pressed to find a way through.
But Morocco’s strength isn’t only in the back. Youssef En-Nesyri has really shown up at this tournament, offering a focal point for his team and holding up play well enough to spring counter-attacks. The quality of Hakim Ziyech is a constant threat that is liable to produce something magical at any moment.
Much like Croatia, the longer the game remains even, the better this Morocco side seems to get. They thrive in battles of endurance, wearing their opponents down and refusing to let up. After going the distance in their penalty shootout win against Spain, it became clear that this team won’t go down easy.
If France fails to find an early goal, then they’re going to have to strap-in for a long night. Though they’re dealing with several injuries, Morocco’s squad has this inexplicable next-man-up mentality that has pushed them into a new class of competition. The key players for each team are healthy and ready: Mbappe and Griezmann, Hakimi and Bounou. This one is going to be fun.
The easy pick here is France. They have overwhelming quality and depth unlike any other team in the world. Morocco could leave now with their heads held high and be received by their countrymen as heroes. There would be no shame in losing to the mighty French.
But, the beautiful game is anything but simple and easy, so I’ll go out on a limb. I'm fully on board the Morocco train. Let the fairytale continue! It’s time to pick with the heart instead of the head. The Atlas Lions are going to book their ticket to the final with a 2-1 victory in extra time, sending the holders home.