Mbappé dou­bles up in France’s vic­tory over Ar­gentina

Sunday Express - - SPORT -

KAZAN ARENA — Dreams can en­dure only so long be­fore they are over­whelmed by re­al­ity — and there are few re­al­i­ties quite so bru­tally un­com­pro­mis­ing as the pace and fin­ish­ing of Kylian Mbappé, who scored twice and won a penalty in France’s 4-3 win.

Af­ter a grim trudge through the group stage, France, fi­nally, are off and run­ning and look­ing like po­ten­tial cham­pi­ons. Li­onel Messi, for all the hopes freight­ing his slight frame, will not be win­ning the World Cup this time.

Quite how Ar­gentina have ended up as this strange botch-job of parts that don’t quite fit to­gether, bound to­gether by noth­ing more than the magic of Messi, is a ques­tion that can­not straight­for­wardly be an­swered but the fact is they are and, as such, were never likely to sur­vive a meet­ing with a side that looked into their eyes and wasn’t cowed by their self-ro­man­ti­cis­ing will to progress.

That will, though, re­mains fe­ro­ciously strong. Un­til the mid­point of the sec­ond half, when they opened up a two-goal lead, the game was un­der­pinned by the ques­tion of how France didn’t al­ready have it won.

There had been talk of con­jur­ing the re­peat of 1990 when de­feat to Cameroon in­spired a de­fi­ant spirit that car­ried Ar­gentina to the fi­nal and in some of the cruder chal­lenges, it felt Ar­gentina may be fol­low­ing the tem­plate rather too closely. But the dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now is that that team could ac­tu­ally de­fend; this side can merely strug­gle.

The de­ploy­ment of Messi as a false nine as Jorge Sam­paoli, or which­ever ca­bal of se­nior play­ers picks the side th­ese days, opted for a fourth dif­fer­ent for­ma­tion in four games, served only to deny the wide men a tar­get when they got the ball in cross­ing po­si­tions.

Cer­tainly it did noth­ing to add a de­fen­sive sta­bil­ity. Is all very well to play, as Sam­paoli promised they would, with a knife be­tween their teeth, but only if you can ac­tu­ally catch your op­po­nents to use it. Ar­gentina’s lack of pace is a prob­lem that will never eas­ily be re­solved, and cer­tainly not by play­ing the sort of high line they at­tempted early on. Per­haps Di­dier Deschamps’s France have be­come a flu­ent at­tack­ing unit; per­haps Ar­gentina just made them ap­pear so.

Thir­teen min­utes had gone when Ever Banega mis­con­trolled 30 yards from the French goal, al­low­ing Mbappé to burst for­wards. No­body came close to catch­ing him un­til Mar­cos Rojo hauled him down. An­toine Griez­mann, who had al­ready pinged a free-kick against the bar, rolled in the penalty. Six min­utes later, Mbappé’s pace al­most un­did them again as he raced onto a quickly-taken Pogba free-kick and was tripped on the edge of the box by Ni­colás Tagli­afico, who was per­haps for­tu­nate to re­ceive only a yel­low card. For them to play so high with de­fend­ers so slow against an at­tack so quick seemed mys­ti­fy­ing.

Then, from noth­ing, four min­utes be­fore half-time, came a goal of pre­pos­ter­ous bril­liance, Án­gel Di María un­leash­ing a left-foot drive from 30 yards with just enough bend to take it away from Hugo Lloris’s claw­ing left hand and into the top cor­ner. For the slight­est frac­tion of a sec­ond there was a dis­be­liev­ing si­lence and then an oth­er­worldly roar from a sta­dium that was 90% al­bice­leste. Logic? There was none, but the scores were level.

Hav­ing scored one bril­liant goal, Ar­gentina, as they had against Nige­ria, then added a sec­ond with the least im­plau­si­ble body-part avail­able to them, as Messi’s ball back into the mid­dle was de­flected in by the left foot of Gabriel Mer­cado. Could they cling on? They could not, and didn’t even come close.

It took just nine min­utes for Ben­jamin Pavard to con­jure a goal the equal of Di María’s, cuff­ing a vol­ley from the edge of the box into the top cor­ner. Seven min­utes af­ter Ar­gentina were cut apart on their right once again — the full-back ar­eas have been a ma­jor prob­lem all tour­na­ment. Lu­cas Hernán­dez’s cross fell for Mbappé and he turned sharply to score again. As Ar­gentina chased, the gaps sim­ply grew wider and, from Olivier Giroud’s touch, Mbappé cap­i­talised again. At 19, he is al­ready a won­der­fully ef­fi­cient foot­baller.

Yet still Ar­gentina were not quite fin­ished, Ser­gio Agüero head­ing in a late third. From the grave, the hand thrust up through the soil, but it got no fur­ther. Ar­gentina at last were done.

Deschamps’s side has been crit­i­cised for its un­gain­li­ness and its cau­tion, for be­ing too much about sub­stance and not enough about style. On the day he be­came the long­est-serv­ing man­ager in France’s his­tory, Deschamps could per­haps re­flect that a lit­tle plan­ning and a lit­tle stodge goes a lot fur­ther than a slow and sham­bolic de­fence and a nos­tal­gic faith in a bas­tard spirit. — The Guardian

KYLIAN Mbappé cel­e­brates scor­ing his first goal to put France ahead of Ar­gentina for the sec­ond time.

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