France roared back against Argentina to reach the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday as Kylian Mbappe sent Lionel Messi home empty-handed following a seven-goal thriller.
Antoine Griezmann gave France the lead from the penalty spot but the South Americans levelled through a sweet hit from Angel Di Maria and edged ahead shortly after half-time through Gabriel Mercado.
But defender Benjamin Pavard equalised with a thunderous strike to pull France level before Mbappe netted two goals in four second-half minutes to become the first teenager to score at least twice in a World Cup match since Pele in 1958.
Sergio Aguero gave Argentina late hope but they ran out of time and head home. Here we examine the big talking points.
A SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER
Some contests contain one or two elements which make for great entertainment. Others hurtle into a space of near absurdity that you start to wonder if you’ve failed to suspend your imagination.
Indeed, France’s victory was a vomit of every epic motif you can think of, an instant classic only a bore would attempt to downplay.
While society is permeated by knee-jerk reactions through the quick-to-hand medium of social media, this deserves all acclaim because it’s impossible not to be swallowed up by its chaotic nature.
The lead was exchanged three times. There were seven goals in total – two of them (Pavard and Di Maria) were absolutely blockbuster, another (Mbappe’s second) was poetic in its simplicity and effectiveness.
And let’s first pause to discuss the glorious goals because they warrant entire scripts dedicated to them. Di Maria’s screamer was only matched for intensity by his wild shriek in celebration as the Paris Saint-Germain winger unleashed a beast of a left-footed strike beyond Hugo Lloris from 30-yards – the longest strike of the tournament so far.
After that, Pavard sent us all into a dizzying spin with a balletic effort of raw technique which is comfortably the best we’ve seen in Russia.
And not to be overshadowed, France’s fourth was a beautiful and brutal cut-throat counter-attack which started with Lloris and ended with Mbappe clinically grabbing his second.
Entwined within the plot twists, was the granting of A-list standing for Mbappe for a breakout performance while Messi, as far as the World Cup is concerned at least, was consigned to washed-up status.
Part one of the 2018 World Cup was memorable and thanks to this masterpiece, part two is threatening to stretch that narrative.
WONDER BOY IS THE SUPERHERO
If the game was like a movie in its plot, then Mbappe was its star. The 19-year-old transitioned from his ‘Wonder Boy’ role and into ‘Superhero’ stature with a performance of piercing pace and perfect poise.
The visible panic on the faces of Argentina defenders every time the PSG man ran at them was one of the hallmarks of the clash.
And Paul Pogba deserves some credit here as well because if Mbappe was the bullet, he was holding the gun.
Indeed, the Manchester United creator barely needed to look up before firing accurate long balls into the teenager and a precisely lofted pass almost created another opportunity for Mbappe to vaporise the France backline as he earned a free-kick after his earlier slalom from deep in his own half led to the penalty.
Ultimately, though, Mbappe rightly leads the stellar reviews because his acceleration after changing direction, his ability to shift the ball out of congested areas and his fiercely calm finishing ability leads us to believe we’re witnessing a very special talent emerge onto the world stage.
A MESSI ENDING
As we move through the commentary of this thriller, we reach a point of finality. Mbappe’s rise may well be in its infancy but for Messi and the World Cup, it is surely a sad climax.
The Barcelona icon will be 35 when the next tournament approaches and even if, physically, age is to be no barrier, the emotion of yet another Argentina heartache will lead to a break up.
The 31-year-old hinted before heading to Russia it could be his last outing with the national team and despite flirting with international retirement previously it’s unlikely he’ll cheat himself again.
Yet, there is an argument to be made that while this iteration of Argentina is nothing without Messi, it is also because of him they are nothing.
The rest of the squad seemed to devalue itself with their star, captain, maybe even coach on such a lofty pedestal.
The desperation of teammates to funnel the ball through to Messi seemed to tunnel their own natural thoughts and it created so many errors. A schism in the relationship could be what’s best for all parties.
Know more about Sport360 Application