France not underestimating Morocco threat in World Cup semifinal

France defender Raphael Varane says the World Cup title holders will not ‘fall into the trap’ of overconfidence when facing Morocco in the semifinal match.

France will “not fall into” the trap of overconfidence when they take on the tournament surprise-stars Morocco in their semifinal showdown on Wednesday, French defender Raphael Varane has insisted.

Though Morocco has stunned the footballing world by eliminating Spain and Portugal in the tournament’s knockout phase — and in the process becoming the first African and Arab team to qualify for a World Cup semifinal — France’s Les Bleus remain strong favourites to retain their title this year.

The French have already achieved the target set by their country’s football federation of getting to the last four teams, but France’s defender Varane said on Monday that his side were hungry for a place in Sunday’s final and they would not be complacent when taking on Morocco.

“We have enough experience in the team to not fall into that trap,” Varane, one of the survivors of France’s victorious 2018 World Cup campaign, said when asked about overconfidence ahead of the Morocco match.

“We know Morocco are not here by chance. It is up to us experienced players to make sure everyone is prepared for another battle,” he said.

France's defender Raphael Varane gives a press conference.
France’s defender Raphael Varane gives a press conference at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Doha on December 12, 2022, in the build-up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup semifinal match between France and Morocco [Franck Fife/AFP]

“It is not easy to get to a World Cup semifinal so we are very pleased, but the only real objective is to win it,” he added.

“That was always the aim.”

Fellow France defender Jules Kounde praised the Morocco team’s performance at the tournament.

“It is remarkable to have only conceded one goal at this stage of the competition, all the more so given the teams they have faced,” Kounde said.

“They are very compact, with lines that are close together, and they leave little time for the player on the ball to organise himself,” he said.

“They also run really fast, so we’ll need to play with few touches, move the ball around quickly and try to unbalance them by moving from one side to the other.”

Morocco’s run has been stunning.

They beat Portugal 1-0 in the quarterfinals after dumping out Spain on penalties in the last 16. They also beat Belgium and drew with Croatia during the group phase and have conceded just a single goal, from an own goal, in their five matches so far in the tournament.


Morocco's midfielder Azzedine Ounahi runs with the ball during the quarterfinal football match between Morocco and Portugal.
Morocco’s midfielder Azzedine Ounahi runs with the ball during the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarterfinal football match between Morocco and Portugal at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022 [Alberto Pizzoli/AFP]

Morocco’s Azzedine Ounahi has been at the heart of the team’s success, tirelessly stamping his authority on the midfield and emerging as one of the revelations of the entire tournament and even catching the eye of Spain’s former coach Luis Enrique, following the Spanish side’s shootout loss to the Moroccans. Enrique was sacked by Spain after the Morocco defeat.

“I was surprised by [Ounahi]. My goodness, where does that boy come from?” Enrique said, in awe of the midfielder’s “spectacular” display. “He plays really well. I was very surprised. He hasn’t stopped running, he must be exhausted.”

Only 18 months ago, Ounahi was toiling away in the French third-tier football league. Now with Ligue 1 club Angers, it will not be long before he departs following his World Cup display.

Ounahi, who has excelled alongside teammate and midfield enforcer Sofyan Amrabat, is a reported target for Barcelona. Amrabat, 26, is also said to be on Liverpool’s radar.

“Is the phone ringing? It’s ringing quite a lot,” Angers chairman Said Chabane told France’s RMC radio station of the interest in Ounahi and countryman Sofiane Boufal, who has also started every game in Qatar.

“You know very well that we can’t hold back a player who wants to leave,” he said.

A relative unknown outside his homeland and France, few are unlikely to forget Ounahi’s name after this World Cup and the coming semifinal game against the reigning French side.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies