FIFA World Cup 2022: France show clinical edge to beat Morocco despite lacking possession – tactical analysis
We all love an underdog story, especially when it comes to football. Recent international tournaments have seen new heroes establish themselves when nobody ever expected them to: From Wales’ historic run in Euro 2016 to Croatia reaching the World Cup final back in 2018. This year, we were treated to some brilliant performances from Morocco, who captured the hearts and imagination of fans around the globe as they made it all the way to the semi-finals. This made Morocco the first ever African nation to compete in a semi-final match at a World Cup competition.
To book their place in the final four, they’d knocked out footballing giants Portugal and Spain, and conceded only one goal on their amazing journey. Then, they met France, the reigning champions of the world. This was by far Morocco’s biggest test in the competition so far and proved to be a challenge too big, as the French broke hearts everywhere with a 2-0 victory, confirming their place in the final against Argentina.
This tactical analysis will provide a focus on the attacking tactics of both sides – how Morocco saw more of the ball and how they looked to break the strong French shape. We will also provide an analysis of how France looked in attack – the build-up to both goals as well as a look at their attacking tactics in general.
Current World Cup holder France deployed a 4-2-3-1 with a mouth-watering lineup full of superstars. Only two changes were made from their 2-1 win over England in the previous round, with illness striking in the France camp, ultimately keeping Adrien Rabiot of Juventus and Dayot Upamecano out of the game. They were replaced by Youssouf Fofana and Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konaté respectively.
There could be an argument for dropping Upamecano even if he was fully fit as he was less than convincing against England, with Harry Kane exposing the central defender on more than one occasion. Rabiot silenced a few critics with a strong performance in the quarters so it can be argued that he was the bigger miss of the two absentees.
Morocco had previously been donning a 4-3-3 shape but opted for the switch to 5-4-1 in this tie. Some will argue that this was a theoretically sound move as it gave Morocco a better chance of containing a highly talented attacking unit, whereas others may deploy the mantra of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”.
In terms of personnel, one of the changes occurred at left wing-back, with Bayern Munich defender Noussair Mazraoui coming back into the fold, while Achraf Dari came in as the extra central defender in the back five. Sofyan Amrabat has been the star of this Morocco side, operating from the middle again in this fixture, with wide presence being provided by Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal. Youssef En-Nesyri, who scored the only goal in the game against Portugal, led the line again but struggled to find the same spark.
Morocco’s attacking shape
If you were to look at the stats without seeing the match itself, you will feel some shock when discovering that, on paper, Morocco had the better of the ball. Higher possession (62%), more passes (575), and higher pass accuracy (86%) – on face value, Morocco truly left their mark in the game. What those stats don’t show you, however, is where the ball was and how dangerous Morocco were (or weren’t) with it. This segment will provide an analysis of how Morocco looked to break a resilient France shape down.
This is what the France setup typically looked like out of possession. They started the game with a high press to rush the back five, but they soon realised the lack of impact this had, so switched to more of a mid-block method.
Their shape in doing so was rather interesting – Giroud would sit a little deeper compared to his wingers – Griezmann and Mbappe, who would both tuck inside, almost acting as centre forwards. These two would apply pressure to the defender on their side when/if they received the ball. This positioning provided stability in front of a narrow deeper midfield three, which looked to stifle Morocco’s attempts to play through the thirds.
Morocco soon learned that France would be very difficult to break down and playing route-one tactics was not a viable option. This encouraged them to be a bit more fluid within their units, as well as be more creative individually. Morocco’s number eight, Azzedine Ounahi, demonstrated those attributes in the image above, as his side looked to move the ball into a more dangerous area.
Ounahi began the move lingering within France’s deeper midfield unit, with Griezmann blocking the passing line into the midfielder. Showing good initiative and decision-making, Ounahi simply drifted into a space that was unmarked by France, and also provided a better passing angle for his teammate. From there, Morocco’s midfield maestro looked to carry the ball into the France half, showing good technical ability, before his pass to a teammate ultimately went astray.
This sort of clever movement on an individual basis wasn’t a fluke, either, but instead was an important element of Morocco’s tactics in getting from one third to the next. In the analysis above, Ziyech drifted inside towards France’s narrow midfield unit, drawing the focus away from the flank, giving Hakimi plenty of space out wide.
Ziyech showcased his awareness, vision, and technical ability in the seconds that followed. The pressure from the Frenchman on Ziyech was far from great, and he almost seemed to give up and retreat, but this gave Ziyech the chance to push his side forward. After a clever turn to fully get away from his marker, he wasted no time in playing the pass into Hakimi on the right flank. This forced France, allowed Morocco to push up and gave them a chance of creating a dangerous attack.
Half-time was an important period for the Moroccans. They came out in the second half in their usual 4-3-3 shape, ditching the 5-4-1 from the first half; aware that they needed to show more intent and aggression going forward.
In terms of shape, this aimed to (and achieved) two key factors. It allowed the full-backs to really push on into high and wide positions, maintaining a shape with their defensive unit that allowed Morocco to control possession still. It also created some more space centrally in deeper areas, allowing either Amrabat or Ounahi to drop in and collect the ball, acting as a deep-lying playmaker with France settled a little deeper to combat the higher Moroccan presence.
France going forward – breaking lines and attacking in transitions
As we’ve mentioned, the basic stats of this game don’t paint France in a dominating light. But, as they did against England in the quarters, they proved that the stats don’t tell the full story. Even in games where France don’t turn out their best performance, they are dangerous in attack and they have become masters in taking their chances. This segment of analysis looks at some elements of their attacking tactics, breaking down their approach going forward on a unit and individual level.
In the first half, Morocco’s formation meant that France had little space in wide areas, forcing them to try and play through the middle on more than one occasion. This requires immense focus and positioning from the defending team, with the smallest detail holding large importance.
Firstly, the yellow-highlighted Morocco player, Boufal, is in a position that doesn’t really offer any defensive assistance. His body shape indicates that he is ready to press if France play a lateral pass, but his focus should have been on the defensive integrity of his midfield unit. Essentially, he could have blocked the passing line Varane had into Griezmann. While this job could’ve also gone to Amrabat behind him, Boufal’s positioning offers less from a defensive perspective.
From there, it is an individual error that grants France a golden opportunity to get into the box. As the pass is played into Griezmann, Morocco defender El Yamiq appears to misjudge the ball and then completely misses it in a last-ditch attempt to cut the pass out. Griezmann lets the ball run across him and into space behind the defence, and eventually, albeit with a huge amount of luck inside the box, France open up the scoring.
Speaking of Griezmann, he has been a star for his nation in this competition. While the focus has been on other members of the squad, the Atletico Madrid man has performed exceptionally well, with an incredible work rate. We can see this in his heatmap against Morocco – he lends his services wherever his team needs him and is very reliable on the ball.
We’ve spoken about the importance of individual influence in this game. Yes, both sides had clear tactical approaches, but, as in any game, individual decisions and actions had big parts to play, especially for France, who had to be creative in breaking down a strong Moroccan defence.
The image above shows how Morocco would defend when France had possession as they do above, but here we are focusing on the five highlighted France players and their attacking positioning throughout the game. Starting with the right back, Jules Koundé. He is naturally a centre-back, and that is where he plays most of his football, but he has been asked to fill in at right back in this tournament. Defensively, this doesn’t hurt France too much as he is a quick defender with a strong defensive skill set. But, on the ball, he isn’t as well-equipped – which is why, more often than not, he would remain deep and not push forward.
This links into Ousmane Dembélé’s positioning on the right flank. Most of the time, he would remain in a very wide position on the right flank, but how does this link in with Koundé’s positioning? Well, if Koundé was to receive the ball, look at how simple the next pass into Dembélé would’ve been! Their respective positions allowed for good angles when combining.
Griezmann, we have touched upon, but positionally, he is a master of finding pockets of space and exploiting them, and he has been given the license to roam free and pick up space wherever he deems necessary. Mbappe would regularly alternate between operating in a wide area and tucking into a narrower position, but always had the support of Theo Hernández at left-back, who was often in a high and wide position to provide attacking support
This final analysis is a breakdown of the build-up to France’s second goal, as it showcased their ability to be dangerous in attacking transitions. They collect the ball following a poor Morocco pass at the halfway line, and Aurélien Tchouaméni shows the ability to play intricate passes in tight areas to get the ball into Fofana. Fofana takes the ball and shows great power and control to carry the ball deep into Morocco’s territory before laying the ball into Mbappe, who shows his back to goal to protect the ball from oncoming pressure.
This creates space in behind in a slightly wide area for Dembélé to run into – the Barca man didn’t use the space to its full potential upon receiving the ball, instead slowing proceedings down. This eventually proved to be fruitful as he returned the ball to Mbappe, who took up a good supporting position. After Mbappe wriggled past a couple of Morroco’s defenders, his deflected shot fell into the path of substitute Randal Kolo Muani, who made it 2-0. Again, luck at the end of the move for France, but impressive play to get themselves into such a position.
France have set up a behemoth of a World Cup final against Argentina thanks to this 2-0 win. They showed their deadly touch in attack when it mattered, and also went another 90 minutes without conceding from open play, just like they did against England.
Morocco deserve an immense amount of credit for defying everyone’s expectations to get this far… everyone except Samuel Eto’o, who predicted France vs Morocco for the semis. Morocco have shown great quality throughout the competition and did so against France. They are tough in defence with brilliant team cohesion, and some individual brilliance made them a joy to watch in attack. They simply lacked that cutting edge in the final third this time around, but they will for sure be proud of this history-making run.