© Reuters. Soccer Football – FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – Quarter Final – England v France – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar – December 10, 2022 England’s Harry Maguire in action with France’s Olivier Giroud REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
(This Dec. 10 story has been corrected to change first name of Olivier Giroud in paragraph 1)
By Mitch Phillips
AL KHOR, Qatar (Reuters) – Olivier Giroud sent France into a World Cup semi-final with Morocco as his late header after Aurelien Tchouameni’s opener clinched a gutsy 2-1 win over England on Saturday with Harry Kane blazing a penalty over the bar six minutes from time.
Four years ago Giroud did not manage a shot on target in the entire tournament as France won the title but in Qatar he now has four goals and has become his country’s record goalscorer along the way.
France are now one win away from becoming the first back-to- back finalists since Brazil in 2002 and two from being the third team to retain the trophy after Brazil in 1962 and Italy in 1938.
Manager Didier Deschamps, who captained them to their first World Cup triumph in 1998 and coached them to their second title four years ago, described the victory as fabulous.
“It was a big game, we played a superb England team who are strong technically and physically,” he said
“It’s brilliant for the players to be in the last four again. We got a bit lucky although we gave away two penalties but we kept our lead with our hearts and our guts.”
France really did have to work hard for their win as the first major tournament knockout match between the old sporting rivals maintained the excitement and edge-of the seat drama that has made it such an extraordinary quarter-final weekend.
They went ahead after 17 minutes when, after a length-of-the-field break, Antoine Griezmann rolled the ball invitingly into the path of Tchouameni, whose 25-yard low shot flew just inside the post.
England eventually got going, pushing and probing, and France keeper Hugo Lloris was quick off his line to save at the feet of Kane and then parried another drive from England’s captain.
Lloris was in action again at the start of the second half, tipping a fierce Jude Bellingham shot over the bar as England came out full of purpose and energy.
The dangerous Bukayo Saka was then tripped by Tchouameni and Kane smashed the penalty high beyond his Tottenham Hotspur team mate Lloris to draw level with Wayne Rooney as England’s record scorer on 53 goals.
England, beaten semi-finalists four years ago, were buoyed by the goal and were playing with huge confidence but although centre-back Harry Maguire brushed a post with a header they could not make their dominance count.
Instead France hit back as Griezmann swung in a perfect centre that Giroud did brilliantly to reach in front of Maguire, planting his header into the slimmest of gaps after 78 minutes.
The cross took the ever-elusive Griezmann beyond Thierry Henry as his country’s top assist provider with 28 and was another reminder of why he has played an extraordinary 72 internationals in a row.
England were then given another lifeline via VAR when Theo Hernandez flattened Mason Mount but this time Kane sent his spot kick wildly over the bar in a painful reminder of Chris Waddle’s effort when they lost the 1990 semi-final shootout to West Germany.
England pushed for an equaliser but when substitute Marcus Rashford’s added-time free kick fizzed just over the bar it meant a seventh defeat in 10 World Cup quarter-finals and another ‘four years of hurt’ to tack on since their solitary triumph in 1966.
“We were here to try to win the tournament and we believed we could and I think that we showed with that performance tonight against the reigning champions that we’ve got a team that could have done that,” said coach Gareth Southgate.
“It’s fine margins and things at both ends that have ended up deciding the game but I think the way they’ve progressed as a group throughout this tournament has been fantastic.”
France now face the unlikeliest of semi-final opponents in Morocco, after they beat Portugal 1-0 earlier on Saturday and Deschamps was quick to recognise their worth.
“Morocco deserve praise,” he said. “Maybe they were not expected to be here (in the semis), but they conceded only one goal and seeing them here is not a surprise at all.”