The World Cup final is set after France faces Morocco
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
France is heading back to the World Cup final after beating Morocco 2 to 0 in the semifinal today. It was Morocco's first defeat in the tournament and ended a dream run for a team that broke barriers. For France, the win sets up a match against Argentina on Sunday. And if France wins that, it would become the first back-to-back champion in 60 years.
NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us once again from Doha. Hey, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hey there, World Cup buddy.
SHAPIRO: Another day, another stadium and another thrilling match. What happened?
GOLDMAN: Well, France asserted its dominance very early with a goal in the fifth minute and continued to push and dominate most of the half until about the last 10 minutes. And that's when Morocco turned the tide and became the aggressor. And from then through a good portion of the second half, Morocco regularly surged toward the French goal, had a number of really good scoring chances, I mean, point blank. But France's defense was magnificent in repelling everything. Then in the 79th minute, France scored another goal. That was the clincher. You know, Ari, Morocco had roared through this tournament, handling some of the top European national teams. But in the end, they couldn't handle France, which is the best.
SHAPIRO: Morocco really was a fan favorite, getting huge support from people across Africa, throughout the Arab world. What was the reaction in the stadium like?
GOLDMAN: You know, attendance here at Al Bayt Stadium was over 68,000. And seriously, I would say 75% of the crowd was from Morocco. And at the end, many cried. But at the same time, they cheered hard for their vanquished heroes who gave these fans and so many outside of Qatar such pride with this historic run at the first Middle Eastern World Cup.
SHAPIRO: Well, you're going to have a few days to look ahead to Sunday. Give us a preview. What are you expecting?
GOLDMAN: Well, there certainly are X's and O's to pore over in the next several days to figure out who has advantages where. Not sure I'll do that, but I might. But really, Ari, that is too wonky for right now.
SHAPIRO: Go do falconry...
SHAPIRO: ...Instead or something.
GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Right now, the headline is France trying to become the first back-to-back champ since Brazil in 1962 and Argentina going for star forward Lionel Messi's first World Cup title ever - epic showdown. And you've got the subplot, although not too sub, of Messi and France's Kylian Mbappe being tied for the goal-scoring lead going in. They are the stars of their respective teams. Messi is a generational player. Mbappe has the potential to be a next generational player. It's going to be fun.
SHAPIRO: All right. There's also this tragedy that we have been talking about, which was the sudden death of American soccer journalist Grant Wahl. And today I understand there was news about the circumstances surrounding his death. What have we learned?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right. Dr. Celine Gounder, his widow and a prominent infectious disease expert, said after his autopsy, it was determined Grant Wahl died of an aortic aneurysm. She said his death was not due to nefarious actions. There were rumors that he'd been killed because he wrote critically about Qatar and FIFA. Well, Ari, a lot of people have done that, and it was always kind of a stretch.
Also, sadly today, it was announced a Kenyan security guard at Lusail Stadium, site of Wahl's death, died after a reported fall while on duty over the weekend. And in announcing his death, Qatari officials said, we will ensure his family receives all outstanding dues and moneys owed. Now, that kind of compensation remains a point of contention in the ongoing criticism of migrant worker treatment here. Rights groups continue to press Qatar and FIFA to create a compensation fund for families of the many migrant workers who've been adversely affected. And that issue still is unresolved.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Tom Goldman in Doha, Qatar. Thanks a lot and enjoy the final game.
GOLDMAN: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.