Les Bleus teenager out to set cup alight
Remember that picture of Diego Maradona against Belgium from 1982? You know the one, the Argentina No 10 at a slight tilt, his left foot hovering over the ball, as six Belgium players stand in front of him like terrorstricken deer.
It is one of the iconic Fifa World Cup images, albeit a little misleading. Maradona had actually received a short freekick from Ossie Ardiles and those Belgium players happened to be in such close proximity to each other because they had just broken off from a defensive wall in response to Maradona picking up possession.
As a monument to the fear the great Argentine used to invoke in the opposition, though, it was fitting.
Perhaps, in time, they will sell prints of that moment in the 39th minute of this high-class world cup semifinal when another fearinducing No 10 left a posse of frazzled Belgium players in a state of high alarm.
Okay, so there were not six Belgians confronting Kylian Mbappe in this particular case but there were still four and, more significantly, this was no optical illusion.
Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany were all on the backfoot, their eyes glued on the France teenager, as he surged towards the penalty area.
So glued, so focused and so — let’s be honest — frightened about what Mbappe might do next that he had succeeded in drawing the eye completely away from Benjamin Pavard as the France right-back made a dash into the box behind Witsel.
The thing about Mbappe is he doesn’t just have the speed of a torpedo, he has the stealth, too, and the pass he slipped in for Pavard was a thing of beauty. Only a fine save from Thibaut Courtois, the Belgium goalkeeper, denied France a goal.
If ever a moment encapsulated the sheer joy of watching Mbappe, and the sheer pandemonium he creates for defences, this was it. His showstealing, two goal evisceration of Argentina in France’s 4-3 last-16 victory was the moment he truly announced himself on the global stage but this was a performance that cemented his position as the most electrifying young presence in world football.
By Monday morning, he might also have a world cup winner’s medal to match.