France entered this year’s World Cup as one of the huge favourites to double up on their success from 1998. The French Press, fans and expectations were, at the very least to reach the quarter-finals. Boasting a squad which was able to leave behind Benzema, Lacazette and Rabiot, and including World beaters such as Podga, Griezman, Lloris, Vrane and Matuidi.
Yet, France hadn’t shown anything of note in the group games to suggest they could win the World Cup, and there were still question marks around the fluidity of the starting XI, with Deschamps starting with Dembele in wide left, and Tolisso in a midfield three, a formation he didn’t ever return to leading into the Argentina game.
Enter 19-year-old Mbappé, donning the famous French Number 10 shirt, where Zidane and Platini once carried the weight of a Nation on their shoulders and delivered on the World stage. This is the game where Mbappé arrived. France Vs. Argentina, a last 16 clash which on paper had truly world class players from both sets of teams.
Very few youngsters announce themselves on the world stage with a performance that has fans, pundits and armchair supporters jump out of their seats.
Mbappe, hugely mature for someone so young, maintained a teamwork ethic over his own individual contribution and self-glory throughout the group games but never excelled despite scoring the winning goal against Peru.
Something was missing, the handbrake was clearly still on and rumours surfaced that Deschamps had privately mentioned to Mbappé to express himself and bring himself into games with freedom.
Ten minutes into the first-half, and in quite spectacular fashion all that fear and anxiety instantly evaporated when Mbappé burst out of nowhere to light the blue touch paper in breath-taking fashion.
“Taglifico beaten to that by Mbappé ….watch him go….Mascherano won’t get near him, and Mbappe down…… it’s a penalty for France! – In the time it took Guy Mowbray BBC Commentator to run his beautifully poetic sentence, Mbappé had run from his own half, weaved, sprinted, dodged and slipped through the entire Argentine defence to win a penalty for his team.
Many people pointed the direct approach, pace and close control to the Brazilian Ronaldo in his hey-days at Barcelona and Inter-Milan, and rightly so. A major difference being the versatility Mbappé, who is supremely comfortable operating as a false-nine or wide-forward.
The youngster proved to be fearless in possession, using his quick feet and equally quick-wittedness to avoid the thunderous challenges of the Argentine defenders.
His ability to come in short to collect the ball, spin, then attack the opposition was frightening at times. Defenders were unsure to mark him tightly or stand off him, which gave Mbappé the tactical upper hand.
If the defender stood off, he was willing to run in behind the defender’s shoulder, forcing them to run back to their own goal, knowing that he has the pace and finishing to kill games off.
His first touch is sublime but’s it’s his movement off the ball which proves that this youngster is way ahead of his time. Often curving his runs, checking in, and back out, to collect a short pass, or feinting to go down the line and jinking in off the touchline to drive straight towards the 18-yard box.
Watching Mbappé against Argentina reminded me of when I, and probably the whole of England first saw a portly Maradona pirouette on the halfway line and dance around the entire England spine to score the best ever goal at a World Cup.
“He has Burrachaga to his left and Valdano to his left, he won’t need any of them….oh you have to say that’s magnificent! There was no debate about that goal, that was pure footballing genius” The indomitable Barry Davis brilliantly describing what was a unique moment in everyone’s footballing education.
No doubt Mbappé’s performance will be as ever long-lasting if France are to clinch the World Cup in Russia this year