2022 World Cup ‘Moment of the Day’: The certainty of Mbappe and the hesitation of Hamdallah

The 2022 World Cup now knows its two finalists. A sensational second semifinal saw France beat Morocco 2-0, with the bland score-line not doing justice to the action that unfolded across the pitch. With so much happening, ESPN India attempts to pick out the one moment that defined the day’s action.

For day 20, it’s a moment that’s played out in two parts, separated by less than three minutes: the nervous hesitation of Abderrazak Hamdallah and the unnerving certainty of Kylian Mbappe……Continue Reading

It starts a second before the 75th minute of the game. France are leading Morocco by a goal to nil but it’s the most slender of margins. Since that early goal, Morocco have been hammering away at the French. At various points it’s taken a Raphael Varane stretch, an Ibrahima Konate tackle, more than one Hugo Lloris save, the annoyingly constant presence of Antoine Griezmann, and a strong metal post to keep the score at 1-0.

It’s at this point that Selim Amallah puts Aurelien Tchouameni under immense pressure. As the Real Madrid midfielder turns back, Abderrazak Hamdallah nips in and takes control of the ball. Head down, he goes full pelt toward the French box. Hamdallah has come on in the 66th minute and made a big difference with his almost insulting directness. A prolific forward throughout his career, he was once named the world’s top scorer (for the calendar year 2019) when he scored 57 goals for Al Nassr, three more than Robert Lewandowski, seven more than Lionel Messi. This is a man, then, who knows the route to goal.

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Hamdallah slows down as he nears the edge of the box before a sudden change of direction squares up a furiously backpedaling Varane. Trailing in his wake are Konate and Jules Kounde. As he glides past Varane, the French goal suddenly opens up. For all the domination and the chance creation of the previous 75 minutes, Morocco never really had a clean line of sight on Lloris goal. Hamdallah has it now.

He cocks up his left foot and… hesitates. Kounde and Konate catch up. Hamdallah still has the upper hand, though, and he shifts it once again to the left. Clean line of sight again. Left leg cocked again. Hesitation again. By the time he tries to poke it with his right, the door has been slammed shut.
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Chance? What chance? Didier Deschamps’ men have bolted the front door firmly shut. That clean line of sight to Lloris’ goal? A figment of the Moroccan imagination again.

France still 1. Morocco still 0.
The certainty

Exactly two minutes and thirty-one seconds after he loses the ball to Hamdallah, Tchouameni runs onto a misplaced Jawad El Yamiq pass. A quick turn and a deft jab sets Youssouf Fofana away. He, in turn, motors into the Moroccan half, holding off Azzedine Ounahi before passing it square to his left.

Where, standing still, is Kylian Mbappe.

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Mbappe has threatened to tear into Morocco all game. Even when he’s standing around doing nothing, you can sense the fear in the air. It’s laced with the threat of what he could do. The ferocity of his acceleration has already scorched Morocco a couple of times, but his great mate Achraf Hakimi and that man-who-never-stops-running Sofyan Amrabat have kept him in check for the most part; by foul means and fair. Here, he receives the ball from Fofana with a piece of daring imagination. His first touch allows it to roll over his foot, his body turning with blinding speed. Hakimi, who has come steaming in to put in a reducer is sent skedaddling to the wrong fire.
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With his next touch, Mbappe moves the ball onto Marcus Thuram. The elder son of Lillian holds on to it, waiting and waiting till the Moroccan box is a sea of red before playing it back to Mbappe at the edge.

As the ball rolls toward him, Mbappe plants his left leg before allowing the ball to roll past him. That one slight movement has committed the excellent Amrabat and for the first time this tournament, he’s helpless. Hands in the air, he can only stand and watch as Mbappe darts past, then right and left, holding off Achraf Dari and Hakimi and Abdessamad Ezzalzouli before smacking a shot at goal. It deflects off a fifth Moroccan in Mbappe’s path, El Yamiq, and falls at the feet of Randal Kolo Muani.

A tap-in from two yards and Kolo Muani has scored his first ever international goal.

France 2 now. Morocco still 0.

Game over.
The difference

Hamdallah had the chance to shoot twice. Both times he hesitated, not trusting his left foot, not believing in his ability, trying to minimize risk and close the distance between him and goal. David had the sling loaded and stretched, but he didn’t let go when standing eye-to-eye with Goliath. If he had hit it the first time, or even the second time… If he had scored… the game would have turned. Morocco would’ve had all the momentum. If not a regulation time result, they’d have had confidence and the smile of Bono on their side in extra time and a potential shootout.

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Morocco’s inspirational World Cup run succeeded in putting traditional powers on notice

At the other end, Mbappe had no real shot at goal. In most eyes, there had been no gap, let alone a clean sight of goal. The shot he took had come from minimal back-lift, executed before anyone around him even knew what was happening. Zero hesitation in taking the risk. Complete belief in his pure ability.

The difference was stark.

Abderrazak Hamdallah dithered. Kylian Mbappe did not. In elite sport where the margins are so tiny as to be invisible, sometimes that’s all it takes to decide who reaches a World Cup final, and who doesn’t.

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