Kylian Mbappe was electric for France, and there may be more to come deep into the World Cup. (AP: Sergei Grits)
When a 19-year-old is at the centre of one of the games of the tournament, in the heat of knockout World Cup football, you sit up and take notice.
To be fair, the football universe has long been taking notice of French wonderkid Kylian Mbappe, but when you’re leaving full internationals in your dust in a round-of-16 World Cup match, it’s patently obvious you’re coming of age in scary fashion.
Once the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi (now exiting this World Cup) hang up their boots, Mbappe is one of the leading contenders for the “world’s best player” crown.
He’s not even the finished article yet. Again, he’s just 19. But over the past two years, he’s had the world’s biggest clubs after his signature, he’s been scoring elite goals in the UEFA Champions League, and he’s been widely lauded as a future Ballon d’Or winner.
Scoring two goals against Argentina in a spectacularly good game — ending 4-3 to France — saw Mbappe match one of the all-time greats of the game.
Mbappe is the first teenager since Pele (way back in 1958) to score two goals in a World Cup match, and the first teen since Michael Owen in 1998 to score two in a single tournament.
In Pele’s case at least, that is esteemed company to keep. And it’s not a flash in the pan.
Kylian Mbappe became the first teenager since Pele to score twice in a World Cup knockout game. (Reuters: Pilar Olivares)
Since 17 years of age, Mbappe has been doing it week in, week out in club football. For AS Monaco, he was a sensation, first being billed as “one for the future” before showing he very much was the real deal with crucial Champions League goals, including against English moneybags club Manchester City.
Moving to Paris St Germain, he’s constantly proven himself as a right-sided forward, cutting in with regularity to slice through defences like a knife through butter.
It’s that position that he takes up for France, alongside Olivier Giroud and just ahead of Antoine Griezmann, and despite being shunted out wide, he’s made that position his own, influencing play all over the right flank and still getting on the end of passes to wreak havoc in the box.
Argentina knew it was in for a torrid time early on
From the off, it was patently obvious that Mbappe was in a mood to give Argentina’s defence a litany of problems.
La Albiceleste’s defenders were placed too high up the pitch in the first half — a major problem for defenders lacking in pace — and Mbappe was allowed to gobble up metres at a scary velocity.
Pouncing on a loose ball in his own half, Mbappe ghosted past three trailing defenders before putting the ball ahead of Marcos Rojo — who had a metre headstart on the Frenchman — before putting on the afterburners to wreck his marker.
Rojo was almost left with no choice but to foul his man — he certainly argued he did so outside of the penalty area — but replays showed that to be a misjudgement, with Mbappe’s pace such that he had quite convincingly made it into the box before being brought down.
France was ahead, but mayhem would ensue as Argentina levelled against the run of play through Angel di Maria’s exquisite goal, before Benjamin Pavard equalised for France in the second stanza with an out-of-this-world finish.
France put four past Argentina to advance to the quarter-finals in style. (AP: David Vincent)
So it would take quite a bit to make the match all about yourself, in the wake of two goal-of-the-tournament contenders. But that’s exactly what Mbappe proceeded to do.
A loose Lucas Hernandez cross pinballed among Argentine and French legs in the box, but when the ball fell to Mbappe’s feet, he belied his years with the presence of mind to deftly control it and break into enough space to get a shot off, before firing low into the awkward zone between the keeper’s leg and hanging arm.
France was 3-2 up. But there was more to come from the young Parisian.
An exquisite team move, which started from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’s short pass under pressure from inside his own area, saw France break at pace before Blaise Matuidi fed Olivier Giroud.
The target man had one thing in mind, and that was to feed the rampaging forward. A delightfully subtle pass threaded the eye of the needle to find Mbappe, who didn’t waste time with a touch. In one motion, he stroked the ball home emphatically.
SBS The World Game tweets GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLL! France 4-2! Mbappe finishes off a wonderful team move
Mbappe outshone his fellow stars and rivals
France’s substitute players broke onto the field, mobbing Mbappe and teammates. A statement had been made at last from a previously under-performing team.
Kylian Mbappe’s two goals proved even more crucial when Argentina scored late to make it a nervy 4-3. (AP: David Vincent)
With a smorgasbord of star talent and incredible depth headlining France’s squad — think Griezmann, Paul Pogba, or the highly vaunted Nabil Fekir — and the vanquished Messi looking on, it was the teenage Mbappe who stepped up, demanding some of history’s spotlight.
To fully compare him to Pele would require a starring role all the way through to the final (and to repeat the trick down the years), and possibly skirting over the fact Pele was an insane 17 years of age when he won his first World Cup.
But do not think for a second that this is some brief moment, a youthful burst of promise.
Mbappe is the certified real deal. And he’ll be a major reason behind France potentially going very far in Russia.