One by one, they dropped away, Morocco’s hopes of overcoming France diminishing just a little at each step. Nayef Aguerd, the central defender, fell by the wayside in warm-ups. Romain Saiss, the captain, finally admitted — to himself, as much as anything — that he was injured after a quarter-hour of play. Noussair Mazraoui, patched up and pushing through, did not return for the second half.
Even at full strength, Morocco might not have beaten France on Wednesday, but there can be little doubt its chances were hampered by having to play the biggest game in its history with a makeshift defense. Unfortunately, that is the lot of the underdog on these occasions. The latter stages of World Cups are, ultimately, as much a test of resources as of talent.
Very few teams outside of soccer’s established powerhouses make it as far as the semifinals of a World Cup, which is to say that merely doing so is, without question, an achievement in itself. The rare ones that have are, for the most part, easily recalled: Croatia in 2018 (and 1998), Uruguay in 2010, South Korea and Turkey in 2002, Bulgaria and Sweden in 1994.
Even fewer, though, make the final. Of those teams, only Croatia, four years ago, made that last step. For everyone else, it was at the semifinal stage that the clock struck midnight, the reverie came to an end, and cold, unforgiving reality once more took hold.
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