On the Mark: France, Morocco Advance to World Cup Semifinals

Defending champion France is through to the World Cup semifinals. Photo: twitter.com/FrenchTeam


English striker Harry Kane missed a much-needed second penalty kick, and England lost to defending champion France in their World Cup quarterfinals match on Saturday, Dec. 10, in Qatar.

Kane badly needed to score on the penalty as England was trailing 2-1 against France with six minutes left in regulation. The English fans were probably feeling good, as the England National Team captain and Tottenham Hotspur striker already scored on a penalty kick earlier in the match. Instead, Kane — who, incidentally, was the top scorer the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with a total of six goals scored — missed, sending France to the semifinals, and inadvertently sending England packing.

When the match ended, Kane dropped down in agony on the pitch and buried his head in his hands.

“We had full belief we could achieve something special at this World Cup,” Kane said afterward, in an interview with the press. “But it comes down to small details. I’m gutted.”

The first goal of the match came from France midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, who scored in the 17th minute. Tchouaméni, however, was instrumental in England equalizing as his tackle of English winger Bukayo Saka earned the Three Lions the aforementioned first penalty kick by Kane, which found the net and tied the game, 1-1.

Olivier Giroud would eventually give France the lead in the 78th minute, however, and England couldn’t equalize with the miss by Kane on his second penalty kick. That penalty was awarded to the Three Lions in the 84th minute courtesy of a foul by French left-back Theo Hernández on English attacking midfielder Mason Mount.

“It reminds me of the mentality we had in 2018, that determination we showed,” Giroud said after the game. “I hope we go far in this tournament because this team deserves to get there.”

Meanwhile, in the other match, Morocco stunned Portugal, 1-0, to advance to the semifinals, making it the first-ever African nation to make it this far in the World Cup (after, likewise, being the first team from an Arab nation to reach the tournament’s quarterfinals).

Morocco has been a defensive powerhouse in this tournament — aside from, of course, being a giant killer — as it has conceded only one goal so far, and an own goal at that, against Canada in the group stages. It has also extended its unbeaten streak to six games, the longest ever by an African team.

Morocco’s lone goal late in the first half was a beautiful header by striker Youssef En-Nesyri, who soared high above Portugal defender Ruben Dias.

With Portugal badly needing a goal, Cristiano Ronaldo was subbed in — that was the second game in this tournament that the Portuguese superstar was benched — which marked his 196th match for Portugal, tying Kuwait striker Bader Al-Mutawa for the most international appearances of all time.

Portugal kept the pressure on Morocco with Ronaldo on the field, but the Moroccans’ defense just proved too much. In the 91st minute, however, Ronaldo finally had his chance — in a rare instance, he was able to break through the Morocco defense, but his shot at goal was stopped by Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. Bounou has earned himself instant legend status in this tournament, most especially for the penalty shootout against Spain in the quarterfinals, where he stopped three straight penalty kicks.

Morocco will face France in their semifinals match on Wednesday, Dec. 14, while Croatia — the other giant killer — will face powerhouse Argentina, a day earlier, on Tuesday, Dec. 13., for their own semifinals match.

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