KEIR RADNEDGE in AL KHOR —- The great Arab-African World Cup is all over. It was fun while it lasted and it lasted far deeper into Qatar 2022 than expected. But Sunday’s final will be entirely appropriate, between the finals’ finest two teams, two great footballing nations and the most outstanding pair of individuals: Argentina against France, Leo Messi against Kylian Mbappe.

France, reigning World Cup holders, joined Argentina in the final with a hard-won 2-0 defeat of Morocco who pushed them all the way, threatened sometimes even to overwhelm them yet never quite found the formula to puncture the magnificent blue-shirted resistance.

Mbappe did not add to his tally of five goals but he forced the openings which produced an early strike by Theo Hernandez and a late decider from newly-arrived substitute Randal Kolo Muani.

France: the semi-final line-up

Morocco’s Atlas Lions, first African nation to reach the semi-finals, must console themselves with joyous memories of their victories and pride of place in Saturday’s third-place playoff against Croatia in the Khalifa International Stadium.

The preparations of French coach Didier Deschamps were upset by influenza which disturbed his settled line-up. Workhorse midfielder Adrien Rabiot and central defender Dayot Upamecano had to be replaced by match-rusty Youssouf Fofana and Ibrahima Konaté.

Morocco soon had troubles of their own. Nayef Aguerd, named to start after injury, pulled up in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Achraf Dari. They were still reassigning defensive duties when France struck after only five minutes.

Goalmouth scramble

Jawad El Yamiq slipped in moving to cut out a through ball from Raphael Varane, allowing and Antoine Griezmann to skip clear down the right. He crossed for Mbappe to scrap for possession in the goalmouth and set up Theo Hernandez to shoot past Yassine Bono.

Morocco needed an instant reply to reward the raging support of their fans. Azzedine Ounahi tried, breaking through midfield to unleash a low drive which forced a diving save from French goalkeeper-captain Hugo Lloris.

At this point Morocco were further disrupted by the enforced substitution of Romain Saiss who had also been a doubt after being injured in Saturday’s memorable victory over Portugal.

The Moroccans had to embark on a strategy untested in the finals thus far: attack on their own terms rather than rely on occasional counter-attacks.

This suited France. Olivier Giroud should have done better than strike the outside of a post and rhen sky another effort on the turn after an Mbappe effort was cleared off the goal line.

Lloris rescue

Morocco now commanded possession and the match. Just before halftime they were within inches of an equaliser after France failed to clear a right wing corner from Hakim Ziyech. Jawad El Yamiq launched an overhead bicycle kick which the diving Lloris deflected against his right-hand post.

The French goal lived a charmed life as Morocco piled forward after the break. They were reminiscent of South Korea in 2002, running and chasing with tireless turbocharged vigour. France’s defensive lines were indistinguishable but their defending was magnificent.

Now Deschamps rurned to his subs’ bench to probe into the gaos being left by an increasingly desperate Morocco. Marcus Thuram proved a handful on the break and then Kolo Muani had barely stepped on to the pitch before he was stabbing home the decisive second goal after another Mbappe raid.

France, on Sunday, will seek to emulate Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 in successfully defending their crown. Morocco will have one last hurrah a day earlier with pride of place at stake.