One of the great sporting stories of the year heats up on Wednesday as Morocco take on defending champions France for a place in the finals in the biggest World Cup Cinderella story since 2002.
Last week, Morocco beat Portugal 1-0 to qualify for the semi-finals.
Morocco will certainly have the support of the crowd and the world beyond France’s borders, but will the fairy-tale nature of this run increase the price for the Atlas Lions against perhaps the best team in the world?
Here’s our breakdown of Morocco vs. France on Wednesday at 2 p.m. on FOX.
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Prediction between France and Morocco
Although Morocco has come a long way before the tournament, not just in the semi-finals, the Lions of Atlas have had a tough road to get this far. Morocco finished top of Group F ahead of Belgium and Croatia before they beat Spain and Portugal in their first two knockout games.
Often when a Cinderella story like this comes along, one can kneel down and chalk it up to luck, but that hasn’t been the case for Morocco. The Lions of Atlas will certainly rely on defensive rather than offensive prowess to get results, but the strategy is working and there’s no shame in putting defense first.
And it’s not like they’re just stopping the bus. The Atlas Lions have held Spain and Portugal to just 1.9 expected goals in their last two games, and they put in an impressive performance against the Portuguese in the quarter-finals, winning the xG battle 1.4 to 0.9 .
In other words, Morocco’s defensive solidity keeps them in games, but they worry too much about their opponents having the ball.
Morocco have allowed just one goal in this tournament and scored against Croatia, Belgium, Portugal and Spain, so the Lions of Atlas will be confident they can do it again against the reigning champions.
With their versatility in attack and the presence of Kylian Mbappe, France are more difficult than any other opponents Morocco have beaten, but Les Bleus have reason to be concerned in this tie.
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As strong as France looked with the ball, they had to deal with some shaky defense throughout this tournament. Their semi-final against England was largely a coin flip, but Les Bleus’ defense allowed 2.4 xGA to the Three Lions and was charged with 1.7 xGA against a really poor Poland team for most of the tournament.
France should face similar problems against Morocco, who have talented players who can win a game with a moment of magic.
It’s a game plan that has worked perfectly so far, and it will make the Atlas Lions very dangerous again on Wednesday.
Prediction between Morocco and France
Morocco to win in 90 minutes (+650, FanDuel)