7 talking points as Mbappe leads France to thrilling win over Argentina
Kylian Mbappe stole the show as France defeated Argentina in a seven-goal thriller in their World Cup last 16 clash in Kazan.
The Paris Saint-Germain star scored twice and won a penalty as Didier Deschamps’ side booked their place in the last eight, leaving the Albiceleste to say adios to Russia.
Argentina had no answer for the 19-year-old, with Antoine Griezmann and Benjamin Pavard also finding the net in a rollercoaster encounter where they gave away a lead before fighting back to see off Jorge Sampaoli’s men.
Les Bleus had hardly thrilled during the group stage, but Hugo Lloris insisted the likes of Mbappe would enjoy the space afforded them by Jorge Sampaoli’s men.
Lloris’ claim appeared particularly prophetic after 12 minutes, as the Paris Saint-Germain star picked up on a loose ball inside his own half, turned on the after-burners, and won a penalty from Marcos Rojo’s despairing, never-getting-there challenge.
Euro 2016 top scorer Griezmann, having already rattled the crossbar from a freekick, stepped up to take, and, having underwhelmed and been substituted in each of the previous three matches, he coolly converted past Franco Armani.
Mbappe, operating from the right, terrorised the South Americans, his pace and movement proving devastating to an already punctured defence.
When a Paul Pogba long ball found Mbappe in behind and approaching on the penalty area, Tagliafico brought him down for a freekick; the Ajax defender, looking particularly nervy, was booked, and Pogba slammed the freekick into the stands.
France dominated the first period, but couldn’t make the most of a number of threatening situations. And on the stroke of half-time, Deschamps’ men were punished by a stunner from Angel Di Maria.
The winger had been quiet throughout the opening 41 minutes, barely getting a kick on the Argentina left, where his threat had largely been quelled by Benjamin Pavard.
But when a corner was passed out to the ex-Manchester United man some 25 yards from goal, he took a touch out his feet and unleashed a beautiful swinging effort into the top corner, giving Lloris no chance.
Sampaoli made a defensive change at the break, replacing Rojo with Federico Fazio and shuffling Otamendi to the left-sided centre back role in a bid to combat Mbappe’s breaks.
And shockingly, within five minutes of the restart they were in front, after Messi’s low effort was deflected into the net by Gabriel Mercado’s outstretched leg for his first international goal.
However, Argentina’s lead lasted just nine minutes, thanks to a remarkable goal by Benjamin Pavard.
A relative unknown in his homeland, the Stuttgart defender backed up play and strode onto a dismal attempted clearance from Tagliafico before unleashing a terrific 20-yard effort into the back of the net.
From there, Mbappe took over completely.
First he weaved his way through a packed penalty area, taking one touch to evade three defenders, before firing low past Armani, who really should have done better.
Then, after Kante had picked off a pass in midfield, France quickly broke, and Olivier Giroud’s pass found Mbappe in space, and he duly applied the coup de grâce.
From that moment, the result was never in doubt.
Argentina called on Sergio Aguero, but he barely had a chance worthy of being described as such – until two minutes into injury time Messi picked him out with a beautiful cross and the Manchester City man headed past Lloris.
Alas, that came too little too late as France, over whom there have been so many questions, finally produced the sort of display – at least offensively – of which we know they are capable.
Here are seven talking points from Kazan…
1. The uncertainty of Sampaoli strikes once more
For Argentina, success at the World Cup amounts to winning the thing. Anything else, basically, is failure and leads to an inquest into what went wrong.
In Russia, Jorge Sampaoli has continually given the impression of being a man unclear on how to achieve his goal. He knows what he is striving for, but his flip-flopping over formations, tactics and personnel, suggests he had little idea of how to actually go and do it.
This was Sampaoli’s 15th game in charge of the Albiceleste and his 15th different starting lineup, with Boca Juniors winger Cristian Pavon coming in for Gonzalo Higuain, the Juventus striker relegated to the bench alongside Sergio Aguero and club mate Paulo Dybala.
That meant Lionel Messi, star attacker, chief playmaker – maybe even coach – playing as the furthest man forward in attack.
Messi was all smiles before kickoff, whereas Sampaoli had earlier stepped off the team bus listening to his headphones. In that moment he looked like a man whose time appeared all but up.
2. Mbappe revels in the space afforded
It is no secret that Kylian Mbappe is much more devastating when given space into which he can attack.
It showed during his time with Monaco, when largely unknown he led a swashbuckling counter-attacking team into the Champions League semi-finals, and has continued to be thrown into focus when asked to break down deep-lying defences with either PSG or France.
Unfortunately, in the opening half in Kazan, Argentina appeared to have completely lost leave of their senses and offered the French phenom space into which to gallop again and again. And again.
He punished an errant Ever Banega touch by racing 70 yards, leaving opponents in his wake, and winning a penalty for the game’s opener from an idiotic challenge by Rojo.
That served to open up more space in which the teenager continued to revel, during a first half where he was the game’s outstanding player amid a barrage of abuse from Argentine defenders.
However, they simply had no answer to his brilliance. As the game opened up in the second period, he took full advantage, helping himself to two goals.
He’s not 20 until December – this single display must be one of the best ever individual performances by a teenager at a World Cup.
3. Is Di Maria football’s most frustrating?
For 41 minutes Angel Di Maria may as well have not been on the field.
Tasked with supporting Lionel Messi on the left of Argentina’s front three, the PSG man had little impact on proceedings; touches were bouncing off him and running out of play, defenders were nicking it off his toes, he cut a frustrated figure.
Then, he hit a rasping drive into the top corner from 25-plus yards and Argentina, comfortably second best, were level before the break. He started the second half seemingly emboldened, but when France drew back level and took charge, he rather disappeared from view.
He’s one of the most talented players on the planet in terms of what he is capable of doing to change the shape of matches – don’t forget the 2014 Champions League final and what he did in Lisbon that night. But he’s also one of the most frustrating, a player who sank when he should have swam at Manchester United.
The talent of the man known as ‘Noodle’ has never been in question; however, a fragile mentality has. Goals like that today simply serve to make you wish he’d do it more often.
4. The life and times of Marcos Rojo
In midweek, Rojo was the toast of Argentina, his late volley – with his weaker right foot – having sunk Nigeria.
Here, fter a chastening first half against Mbappe, he was unceremoniously hooked at half-time, already on a booking.
Should we really be surprised in how quickly things turned? After all, it’s just another week in the life of the Manchester United defender.
5. Pavard growing into right-back role
Benjamin Pavard has been the surprise pick from Deschamps thus far, the Stuttgart defender – nominally a centre-half – playing at right-back.
Defensively he’s rock solid, a good defender at the far post, composed and quick.
His attacking output has been questioned, given he doesn’t really have a trick to beat a man when asked to go one vs one with an opponent and that he always prefers the safe option of cutting back to pass rather than swinging a cross over.
However, he was much improved here and the nervousness he showed on the ball against, particularly, Australia, appears to have completely dissipated.
Oh, and his goal was stunning. Truly, stunning.
6. Matuidi suspension gives Deschamps a choice to make
France are preferring to play a 4-2-3-1 formation at present, allowing Griezmann to operate off Giroud and giving Mbappe a space on the right of the attack.
Deschamps has preferred to use Blaise Matuidi, a box-to-box central midfielder, on the left side, the Juventus man diligent in his defensive duties, more a part of the midfield than the attack.
His booking in Kazan means he’ll miss the quarter-final, meaning Deschamps has a choice to make.
Does he use Corentin Tolisso to do a similar job? Or will Ousmane Dembele or Nabil Fekir be drafted in to add more attacking thrust?
7. Farewell Leo?
While Mbappe has his future ahead of him, was this the end of Lionel Messi at the World Cup? Will he be back in Qatar?
He tried his damnedest to lead the Albiceleste into the last eight, but he simply could not do it all.
At the end of the day, the talent around him wasn’t good enough. He couldn’t create and finish moves simultaneously.
In the end, we shouldn’t be surprised. He has held this side up on his shoulders throughout the past two years; without him, they wouldn’t even have been here. An incoherent mess for much of the tournament, they were always going to have their limit, and this was it.
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