BBC coverage begins (finally)
I wasn’t a fan of the theme music they used for this tournament. Gary Lineker is presenting. Alan Shearer, who appeared to be having a great time on 5 Live last night, is among the pundits as they pay homage to Morocco, ‘the Rocky Balboa’ of the World Cup.
He has an interesting story: he had been at Clairefontaine but failed to make his national academy grade and it took him until he was 18 to get a second chance with the Strasbourg reserves. Since he joined the first team and turned professional, he has moved to Monaco, where he formed a fruitful partnership in midfield with … Aurelien Tchouameni last season.
Who is crossing?
Predict the final result of France 2 Morocco 0 here:
Morocco have chosen three central defenders
So I guess the line-ups and lineups will be as follows:
France (4-3-3) Loris; Koundé, Varane, Konate, Theo Hernandez; Tchouameni, Fofana, Griezmann; Dembele, Giroud, Mbappe.
Morocco (5-4-1) Bounou; Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, El Yamiq, Mazraoui; Ziyech, Amrabat, Ounahi, Boufal; En-Nesyri.
Referee Cesar Ramos (Mexico)
Two changes for France
Fofana and Konate enter for Rabiot and Upamecano, both declared “sick” yesterday:
Morocco’s starting defenders are back
Not only Mazraoui and Saiss, but also Aguerd. This is a breakthrough…
Your nibs have arrived
There was an interesting article in Marca last night which reported that Karim Benzema, who had been ruled out of the tournament on the eve of its opening day with a torn left thigh muscle, returned to training with Real Madrid on Saturday . (Incidentally, Cristiano Ronaldo also trained with Real Madrid this week). Marca and The Sun note that should France make it to Sunday’s final, as Benzema has not been replaced in the France squad as Didier Deschamps opted to persevere with 25, he would be eligible to play…if need be.
By Andrew Quinn
The first World Cup semi-final involving an African team is upon us, with Morocco facing their former colonizers France.
Morocco exceeded all expectations in this tournament, clinching a place in the semi-finals with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Portugal. That was only the fourth time an African team had reached the quarter-finals of the tournament, after Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana.
Prior to their quarter-final victory, Morocco beat Spain on penalties after a 0-0 draw, which confirmed their best ever World Cup performance. In the group stage, Morocco drew with Croatia, before beating Belgium and Canada to advance to the knockout stage.
It could also be a historic match for France, who are aiming to become just the fifth team to play in back-to-back World Cup finals. If they win the tournament, they will become the third team to capture consecutive titles. Italy won the tournament in 1934 and 1938, while Brazil did the same in 1958 and 1962.
In their last game they beat England 2-1, with Olivier Giroud and Aurélien Tchouaméni scoring the goals. He knocked out Poland relatively easily in the round of 16 after losing to Tunisia in their final group match, although he fielded a much changed squad. They had already beaten Australia and Denmark to reach the group stage.
The big concern for the North African team is the fitness of their defenders. West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd missed the game against Portugal with a thigh injury and captain Romain Saiss, who joined Besiktas from Wolves in the summer, was forced out in the second half. Bayern Munich full-back Noussair Mazraoui also missed the quarter-final clash but could return to contention. Striker Walid Cheddira is suspended after being sent off against Portugal.
For France, Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano and Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot are injury dubious. The pair completed only light training on Tuesday.