Giroud sends France through to semis as England miss late penalty
DOHA – Morocco’s extraordinary run in Qatar continued on Saturday as they celebrated another massive win in a 1-0 win over Portugal to become the first African and Arab country to reach the semifinals of the World Cup.
A hugely significant victory opened new avenues for football outside of Europe and South America, which have been the dominant force in the sport and have won all 21 previous editions of the World Cup.
The result could also help justify the controversial decision to host the tournament in the Middle East.
Youssef En-Nesyri’s 42nd-minute goal at Al Thumama means Morocco is just the third country outside of Europe and Latin America to finish in the last four, after USA in the first World Cup in 1930 and co-hosts South Korea They reached the semifinals 20 years ago.
It’s a result of huge significance for world football, proving that the gap between the top teams and the rest is narrowing and giving hope to many countries that felt World Cup success was too big.
Morocco’s victory on Saturday comes on top of their victory over second-placed Belgium in the group stage and defeating Spain on penalties in the round of 16.
But against Portugal, despite their pre-match protests over fatigue, they were more ambitious. They looked for counterattacks and built up the pressure with determined defences.
They have conceded just one goal in their five games at the tournament, keeping some of the tournament’s top names at bay.
Portugal had their chances but not enough to panic the Moroccan back line, who were sidelined after half-time without the injured Nayef Aguerd and skipper Romain Saiss with a hamstring injury.
Morocco waited the whole time to rush forward on the counterattack and left-back Yahia Attiyat-Allah, starting his first game of the tournament, led the effort with several racy runs down the flank.
HIGH QUALITY HEAD
He probably didn’t want to cross as high as in the 42nd minute, but En-Nesyri rose to the challenge with a superb header as he leapfrogged both goalkeeper Diogo Costa and defender Ruben Dias to put Morocco ahead.
There were chances for a second when Jawad El Yamiq came close with a header from a set piece after half-time and late substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal missed a chance when he was one-on-one with the keeper at the end of the game.
Morocco’s victory sparked celebrations across the region and is a spur to Qatar, whose choice as host country has been controversial but can now revel in the success of an Arab country.
Portugal were the clear favorites on Saturday and will see the defeat as a missed opportunity.
The game marked a possible end to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese career as the striker broke down in tears as he walked through the tunnel at the end of the game.
His 196th cap as a second-half substitute gave Portugal a temporary boost. But there would be no fairytale ending for the 37-year-old.
GIROUD SENT FRANCE TO THE WORLD CUP
Oliver Giroud’s late header sent France into a World Cup semi-final with Morocco after Aurelien Tchouameni’s opener scored a brave 2-1 win over England on Saturday, Harry Kane’s penalty coming over the bar with six minutes remaining.
Four years ago Giroud failed to score a single goal throughout the tournament as France won the title, but he has now scored four goals in Qatar to become his country’s all-time leading scorer along the way.
France are now a win away from becoming the first consecutive finalists since Brazil in 2002 and two away from being the third team to retain the trophy after Brazil 1962 and Italy 1938.
Coach Didier Deschamps, who led her to her first World Cup triumph in 1998 and coached her to her second title four years ago, described the win as fabulous.
France had to work really hard for their victory as the first knockout match of a major tournament between the old sporting rivals kept up the excitement and dramatic sit-down drama that made it such an exceptional quarter-final weekend.
They took the lead after 17 minutes when Antoine Griezmann rolled the ball invitingly into the path of Tchouameni after a long pause on the field, whose 25-yard low shot went wide of the post.
England finally got going, pushing and testing, and France keeper Hugo Lloris was quick off his line to save at Kane’s feet, then parried another shot from the England captain.
Lloris was back in action early in the second half, deflecting a fierce shot from Jude Bellingham over the bar as England came out full of purpose and energy.
The dangerous Bukayo Saka was then brought down by Tchouameni and Kane smashed the penalty well past his Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Lloris to level with Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time leading scorer with 53 goals.
England, beaten in the semi-finals four years ago, were buoyed by the goal and played with great confidence but despite centre-back Harry Maguire grazing a post with a header they were unable to show their dominance.
Instead, France struck back as Griezmann swung into a perfect middle that Giroud brilliantly reached ahead of Maguire, planting his header into the smallest gap after 78 minutes.
The cross put the always elusive Griezmann above Thierry Henry as his country’s top assist at 28 and was another reminder of why he has garnered an exceptional 72 consecutive caps.
England then received another lifeline via VAR when Theo Hernandez flattened Mason Mount, but this time Kane sent his penalty wildly over the bar to commemorate Chris Waddle’s efforts when they lost the semi-final shootout to West Germany in 1990.
England were pushing for an equaliser, but when substitute Marcus Rashford’s free-kick went just over the bar in added time it meant a seventh defeat in ten World Cup quarter-finals and another “four years of pain” since their lone triumph in 1966 has to be coped with.
France now face their most unlikely semi-final opponents in Morocco, having beaten Portugal 1-0 on Saturday and Deschamps were quick to see their worth. – Reuters