Les Bleus teenager out to set cup alight

Hawke's Bay Today - - SPORT - Fifa World Cup By James Ducker

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.

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