France captain Hugo Lloris praised Morocco for their remarkable World Cup run and warned that the holders will face “formidable” opponents in Wednesday’s semi-final showdown.
Morocco are the first African and Arab team ever to make the semi-finals at a World Cup having beaten Spain on penalties and then Portugal in the knockout stage after topping their group ahead of Croatia and Belgium.
“We can only have respect and admiration for what they have done, but nothing happens by chance at this level,” said Lloris, who won a French record 143rd cap in their quarter-final win over England, at Tuesday’s pre-game press conference.
“When a team is capable of beating Belgium, Spain and Portugal, and finish top of their group, it is because they have lots of quality on the field and undoubtedly off it too, in terms of cohesion and team spirit.
“They will be formidable opponents, and on top of that there will be a hostile atmosphere in the stadium.”
Walid Regragui’s side have had partisan crowds behind them at all their matches in Qatar and 30 flights are being put on to fly supporters in from Morocco for the semi-final at Al Bayt Stadium, in Al Khor north of Doha.
For France the atmosphere will be reminiscent of the atmosphere when they played Tunisia in their final group game and lost 1-0, albeit with a second-string team and with their place in the knockout phase already secured.
“I don’t like the term hostile but there is a popular fervour behind them. It will be very noisy and my players have been warned about that. They know what to expect,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
Meanwhile Deschamps called on Antoine Griezmann to continue his outstanding World Cup form as France look to secure a place in Sunday’s final and become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to retain the trophy.
The Atletico Madrid forward has been arguably the player of the tournament after being turned into a playmaker in a midfield three, partly out of necessity after injury ruled out several other key players.
“Antoine has been very good and he will need to be very good again,” Deschamps said of the 31-year-old.
“He is playing in a different role but it is one that suits him. He takes as much pleasure from winning a tackle as from playing a pass and has always thought about the team as a whole.”
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