Mbappe, not Messi, stars as France beats Argentina
KAZAN, Russia — What Lionel Messi has never done, 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe did twice.
The quick-footed French teenager scored two goals in a five-minute span of the second half to help his team rally for a 4-3 victory over Argentina. Saturday’s victory gave France a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Messi, who turned 31 during his fourth and possibly final World Cup, set up a pair of goals but again failed to score in a knockout match at the biggest event in soccer.
Mbappe got his two in his first attempt.
“Of course, as I’ve already and always said, in the World Cup you have all the top level players so it is an opportunity to show what you can do and what your abilities are,” said Mbappe, who now has three goals in Russia. “There is no better place than a World Cup.”
Mbappe was a constant threat to Argentina’s creaking defense with his speed and skill and was at the heart of France’s often-breathtaking display, particularly in the middle of the second half.
He became the second teenager to score multiple goals in a knockout match at the World Cup. Pele was the other, doing it twice at 17 at the 1958 World Cup.
“It is flattering to be the second one after Pele but let’s put things in context. Pele is another category,” Mbappe said. “But it’s good to be among the players to score in knockout matches.”
With the score 2-2, Mbappe got his first goal with a cool finish from a tight angle in the 64th minute, his low shot going under Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani. Four minutes later, he slotted past Armani again after he was put through on goal by a deft pass from Oliver Giroud.
Mbappe also helped France to its first goal. Following a sustained period of early pressure, he won a penalty after a 40-meter burst of speed that ended with him being brought down by Marcos Rojo. Antoine Griezmann then scored from the spot in the 13th minute, sending Armani the wrong way.
“Our team is much younger, but we are there. We answered the call,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It was not easy because we were leading and then there was an equalizer. Then they led 2-1, but we kept fighting. There is an excellent mentality in this group and we did everything to go further. We couldn’t miss it and we did win it.”
Mbappe was born a few months after France won the 1998 World Cup at home, its only title at the tournament. Deschamps was the captain of that team and Zinedine Zidane scored two goals in the final.
“People remember more the World Cup victory than the year I was born,” Mbappe said. “It is normal (because) it was the time we were World Cup winners, so that is obviously what they remember.”
France, which has reached the quarterfinals at consecutive World Cups for the first time, will next face either Portugal or Uruguay on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod. Blaise Matuidi will miss the match after receiving a second yellow card of the tournament.
Argentina briefly took the lead in the 48th minute at Kazan Arena, but France defender Benjamin Pavard equalized nine minutes later with a superb strike from outside the area.
“It is too soon to analyze concrete mistakes we might have made,” Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said. “I am sure there might have been mistakes.”
Argentina got its goals from Angel Di Maria, Gabriel Mercado and late substitute Sergio Aguero. Messi set up the latter two, first sending a shot on goal that Mercado deflected into the net in the 48th.
With time winding down, Messi gave Argentina a bit of hope with a cross to the left that Aguero headed into goal in stoppage time.
Di Maria’s goal was one of the best of the tournament. Following a throw-in, he hit a hard shot from 30 yards that curled into the top right corner, beyond the dive of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
“We played against a team that was very, very fast in transitions,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to turn around the match but after a very short time during a very strange play, we lost our advantage.”
For Argentina, it was the first time the team has scored three goals in a competitive match and lost.
For Messi, it means he still has never won a major international title with Argentina.