France earned an entertaining 3-1 win against World Cup hosts Russia as teenage starlet Kylian Mbappe grabbed a brace.
The Paris-Saint Germain man opened the scoring just before the break and then sealed the win late on after Paul Pogba had rocketed in a sublime free-kick. Fyodor Smolov made it 2-1 for Russia as they threatened a comeback, but France’s quality eventually told.
Here, we analyse the performance of Mbappe, who endured a mixed evening.
A cursory glance at the scoreline suggests this was a good night for a man deemed the future of French football. But we got to see both sides of Mbappe’s game – the good and the side that reminds us he’s still only 19 and learning the game.
He had missed a glorious chance to open the scoring when faced with a presentable chance following a move sparked by Paul Pogba, before then linking up with the midfielder to open the scoring in style.
His pace and quick feet posed the hosts problems all night and it was those feet that bamboozled his marker late on as he fired in the game-clinching third goal, even though his goal owed a lot to a grisly error by Russia goalkeeper Andrey Lunev.
Work rate – Despite his obvious talent, going to Paris-Saint Germain has meant Mbappe has had to quickly adapt to contributing in a team full of stars.
With Edinson Cavani and Neymar alongside him in attack in the French capital, the teenager is not always the leading light. Like at club level, he played a lot on the flank here and got through his work to make life difficult for Russia’s right-sided wing-backs Aleksandr Samedov and Igor Smolnikov.
Poise – Say what you want about Mbappe’s dip in form in the last few months, but he has definite presence in front of goal.
With his confidence shaken and a glorious chance missed, you might have expected the 19-year- old to wilt under the pressure. But instead he perservered and given a second sniff of goal, finished emphatically.
Collecting Pogba’s perfect pass, cutting past a defender and firing in at the near post.
Finishing – He showed how clinical he can be with a composed finish to break the deadlock, but he wasted a few guilt-edged chances to give his side the lead prior to that.
Maybe it was a case of his recent lack of form in front of goal weighing on the youngster’s mind, but a man of his talent should have buried the opening chance that dropped into his path in the 27 th minute, sidefooting tamely into the goalkeeper’s arms with the goal at his mercy.
Focus – Mbappe switched off in the second half and was one of many culprits Didier Deschamps will point the finger at for a drop in intensity as Russia threatened to get back into the game.
They had plenty of joy down their right flank, France’s left, with Mbappe guilty of failing to give left-back Lucas Hernandez adequate cover, with right wing-back Smolnikov pressing forward and crossing delightfully for Smolov’s goal.
11th min CHANCE: Pogba and Mbappe link up really nicely before the latter holds it up and sends it out to Martial on the left. The Manchester
United man whips it in looking for club-mate Pogba but it’s just out of reach and Lunev gathers.
27th min CHANCE: Pogba’s chip over the defence finds Kante. He tees up Martial whose shot is blocked into the path of Mbappe. He has a clear
sight of goal and really should score, but sidefoots tamely at the keeper.
40th min GOAL: Pogba is again the architect as his slide rules pass splits the Russuian rear guard. Mbappe races onto it and coolly cuts inside his marker to fire low past Lunev at his near post.
43rd min CHANCE: Good feet by the teenager, who receives the ball in the box, then glides by his marker and centres for Martial, who prods goalwards, but Lunev saves.
52nd min YELLOW: Mbappe is in the book for going down too easily. Replays suggest there was contact but no way was it a penalty.
83rd min GOAL: He’s had a mixed game but somehow he’s got two goals, but Russia stopper Lunev won’t want to see this again. Great footwork by Mbappe who gets a sight of goal and fires at the Zenit man, who allows the ball to trickle through his legs.
Mbappe came into the game on the back of a few things he perhaps hasn’t quite been used to in his fledgling career. Criticism and a dip in form.
The former Monaco man has scored in his last two games for PSG but had previously gone seven games without finding the net and even the man himself admitted “it’s not the best period of my career”.
Against Russia he was always a real threat and even though he could have had reasonably expected to net a hat-trick on another night, he was a constant menace for his markers.
Almost four years have passed since one of the darkest days in Brazil’s distinguished football history.
Memories of the 7-1 loss suffered at the hands of a rampant Germany team on home soil at World Cup 2014 still rumble on for football’s most-successful nation.
This summer’s tournament in Russia will provide them with the chance to put those memories well and truly behind them, as they aim to win their sixth World Cup – led by the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus.
But on Tuesday night they come face-to-face with Germany for the first time since that mauling in Belo Horizonte four years ago, in what could be the most important friendly in Brazil’s recent history.
“The 7-1 game is the most recent game. It’s a step that’s passed. We are in a building period and emotionally it will be important,” Brazil boss Tite – whose predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari oversaw the infamous defeat – told ESPN recently ahead of Tuesday’s clash.
He’s right. Friendlies rarely have much importance, but there’s no doubt a clash with the world champions less than three months before the start of the World Cup presents a huge psychological hurdle for Brazil’s new-look team.
Much has changed for both nations since that semi-final clash. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose are no longer German stalwarts, while Brazil’s attacking threat won’t be reliant on Fred, Hulk and Bernard.
The weight of expectation that rested on Brazil’s shoulders four years ago has been somewhat reduced, but the belief is that under Tite they are now a much stronger side than the one that was knocked for seven by Germany.
They stormed through World Cup qualification, finishing ten points ahead of second-placed Uruguay, and look set to be able to match their unrivalled attacking flair with a defensive solidity that failed them so desperately four years ago.
Tite has already confirmed 15 of the 23 that will head to Russia this summer, dependent on injuries between now and the end of the season, meaning just eight spaces are left to fill. A somewhat surprising move, perhaps, but such is the Brazilian boss’ confidence in those he has named, there is no suggestion it could have a negative effect.
Of the 15 already included, just two players – Real Madrid’s Marcelo and Manchester City’s Fernandinho – started against Germany four years ago.
The likes of Dante, Oscar and Hulk, who all started in Belo Horizonte, are still playing regularly for their clubs. The problem for them is that Brazil have well and truly moved forward – on the pitch at least.
Tite also named his starting XI for the opening World Cup game back in February, with Marcelo the only survivor from the 11 that lined up from the start against Germany. Dani Alves, Fernandinho, Paulinho and Willian are the only others who were in the matchday squad for that forgettable night at Estadio Mineirao.
Neymar was part of the Brazil squad for World Cup 2014, missing the Germany game through injury. He will have little time to prepare for Russia because of another injury setback, but there’s no doubt he has mirrored Brazil’s progression in terms of development.
Raw and unpredictable four years ago, the PSG star has developed a ruthless edge, scoring six goals in qualifying to help Brazil comfortably reach Russia. Coupled with genuine star quality around him, Neymar has all the requirements needed to light up Russia and propel himself back into Ballon d’Or contention.
The injured forward will be missing again on Tuesday night, just as he was four years ago, but Brazil have the quality to fall back on this time around. The likes of Chelsea’s Willian and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino have been in stunning form for their clubs and will be ready to snap up any chance they’re presented with.
Douglas Costa and Anderson Talisca will also be hoping to impress and become the 16th name on Tite’s World Cup list. Others such as Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred, Manchester City’s Ederson and Real Sociedad’s Willian Jose will hope for their chance to shine, but there’s no doubt Brazil will be taking this friendly seriously.
Reading too much in to Tuesday night’s clash would be unfair, but for Tite and the Selecao it presents the perfect opportunity to begin the process of banishing those Belo Horizonte memories once and for all.
Gareth Southgate is not a man to set pulses racing.
As a player, he dealt in understated excellence.
Beyond his defining semi-final penalty miss on home soil at Euro 1996 and subsequent pizza advert, the casual observer would fail to recall anything of note from a respectable 57-cap England career.
The versatile centre-back’s acerbic putdown of Sven-Goran Eriksson – the manager who wasted a ‘Golden Generation’ – and a member of the British ruling class in the wake of World Cup 2002’s quarter-final surrender to Brazil currently stands as his enduring gift to the game. Few political hacks ever scribe a killer line to match: “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith.”
It is no great surprise to learn that Southgate has been in the Swede’s shoes for more than a year and we’ve not heard anything that matches the greatest orator his nation has ever known.
In defence, landlocked Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod at Russia’s World Cup 2018 do not provide the same opportunities for a “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech as the previous edition in Brazil’s tropical paradise.
And yet, the now 47-year-old who relegated Middlesbrough in 2008/09 and led England’s Under-21 to last place in their group at the 2015 European Championships has done something his celebrated ex-boss comprehensively failed to do during the previous decade.
Through a frank assessment of England’s few strengths and many weaknesses, he appears to have constructed a lucid tactical plan. This is a rare gift for men in his position – as contemporaries such as Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson can all attest.
For once this summer, the national side should exceed expectations set at record lows rather than shrink under unrealistic ones.
The 3-5-2 formation utilised once again on Friday night earned a deserved first victory in the Netherlands since 1969. Manchester United bolter Jesse Lingard’s precise finish from the edge of the penalty box extended England’s unbeaten run to seven games and made it five-consecutive clean sheets for the first time since October 2014.
Southgate is aware his centre midfield cannot match the shimmering quality of the globe’s grandees. For all that Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson acquitted himself well at Amsterdam ArenA, he is no Toni Kroos, N’Golo Kante, Thiago Alcantara or Casemiro.
Neither would two centre-backs selected from a middling bunch that contains – if all available – the likes of Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Joe Gomez and the out-of-form John Stones provide adequate protection when faced with Belgium’s galaxy of shimmering attackers in Group G this June. An extra body is a necessity.
What they do have – when fit – is arguably the sport’s standout striker in Harry Kane, his partner-in-crime from Tottenham of Dele Alli plus fleet-footed forwards such as Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford who can wound any side on the counter-attack.
Pace seems to be a key facet for Southgate. Kyle Walker has a claim to be among the top-three right-backs on the planet, but he found himself as one of three centre-backs against the sorry Dutch.
Starts were also granted to Tottenham full-backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain buzzed around Liverpool club-mate Henderson in midfield and further legs were supplied by the effervescent Lingard.
The days seem over of simply cramming all your best players onto the pitch with no regard for a coherent system.
In this regard, the Netherlands were apt opponents. Severe injury to Roma centre midfielder Kevin Strootman – who looked a shadow of the animal he once was this weekend – and worries about a porous rearguard forced Louis van Gaal to forgo decades of adherence to Johan Cruyff’s 4-3-3 ‘totaalvoetbal’ principles and select a 3-5-2 four years ago.
His reward was an evisceration of holders Spain and an unlikely run to the semi-finals.
And let’s not forget Sir Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ eschewed the predatory Jimmy Greaves and delivered ultimate glory at World Cup 1966.
The Three Lions don’t have their roar back. Perhaps, they never will.
But under Southgate, they can proceed with quiet confidence that better days lie ahead after miserable returns at the last three tournaments.