Two of France’s key players are “serious doubts” for starting in the World Cup semifinal match against Morocco due to illness, while the Atlas Lions’s coach Walid Regragui has rallied his team to fight to get through to the final on behalf of African nations and the Arab world.
In a significant blow for head coach Didier Deschamps, France defender Dayot Upamecano and midfielder Adrien Rabiot are both doubtful to start in their side’s World Cup semifinal match on Wednesday after missing a team training session on Tuesday due to illness, the French Football Federation (FFF) said.
Upamecano, who was reported to have a sore throat, and Rabiot, who had an unspecified illness, were on light training indoors, the federation said. Upamecano had already missed France’s training session on Monday.
Should the two players be ruled out, coach Deschamps is expected to start Ibrahima Konate at centre back while Youssouf Fofana would be expected to be alongside Antoine Griezmann and Aurelien Tchouameni in the midfield.
Tchouameni, who scored in France’s victory over England on Saturday, was also absent from training on Monday due to discomfort in his left leg but returned to the training pitch on Tuesday and should be fit for the Morocco match. The midfielder is the only player to have started in every game during the French World Cup campaign.
‘We’ll have to block Kylian, but not just him’
Morocco, who also continued training and pre-match preparations on Tuesday, also have injury concerns related to skipper Romain Saiss and centre back Nayef Aguerd.
Moroccan coach Walid Regragui said no player had been either ruled in or out of Wednesday’s game.
“We have good doctors and every day we get good news. No one is ruled out and no one is for certain,” Regragui said.
“We’ll use the best team possible.”
Regragui also said he had no specific plans about how Morocco will deal with the danger of France’s Kylian Mbappe. The French side’s attack poses too many individual threats to just concentrate on one player, he said.
Mbappe is the tournament’s top scorer with five goals and, playing on the left of the attack for France, he goes up against Paris St Germain club mate and close friend Achraf Hakimi, who is Morocco’s highly rated right back.
Regragui said Hakimi is looking forward to a “nice duel” with his friend Mbappé but added that France does not just depend on its star player.
“We’ll have to block Kylian, but not just him,” Regragui said.
“Hakimi is super motivated to beat his friend.”
The key to winning the game, the coach said, will be Morocco’s “team spirit” and the support of the crowd at Al Bayt Stadium, where French President Emmanuel Macron is set to be in attendance along with tens of thousands of green-and-red-clad Morocco fans.
“We have the best fans in the world along with Argentines and Brazilians. They’re people who come from anywhere in the world to support their country,” Regragui said.
“We’re going to play like being at home and that’s the most important thing in the world.”
Regragui said his team is ready to “change the mentality” of Africa and he has told his players not to settle for anything less than the top prize.
“We’re going to fight to move on, for the African nations, for the Arab world,” he said.
The match has cultural and political connotations that go beyond football as Morocco was under French rule from 1912 to 1956.
‘They won’t stop’
France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris warned on Tuesday that Morocco will be a close and difficult encounter.
“Believe me, they won’t stop,” said Lloris of Morocco, adding that France would need to raise their level and be at the top of their game.
Asked about the famously impenetrable Morocco defence, Lloris said the key would lie in breaking them down “as early as possible in the match”.
Team coach Deschamps also called Morocco’s defence “the best at this World Cup”.
Morocco have conceded just once – and that was an own goal – in the tournament so far but Deschamps said France will find a way through and “break them down and create opportunities ourselves to score goals”.
Deschamps again singled out Antoine Griezmann as a potential match-winner.
“He’s the type of player who can really change a team because he’s so hard-working and so technically gifted,” said the boss of Les Bleus.
Morocco go into the semifinal looking to add France to an impressive list of victories after defeating Belgium, Spain and Portugal. Their qualification for the final four has made them the first African and Arab country to ever reach a World Cup semifinal.
But Les Blues are favourites to defend their 2018 crown in Qatar and if they win the tournament they would become the first side to secure back-to-back trophies since Brazil in 1962.
The winner of the France vs Morocco match will face Argentina in the final on Sunday.