For Lionel Messi this World Cup is over. Arguably the greatest player of this and any generation traipsed off the pitch at the end of this astonishing game, his head down, his shoulders slumped, his eyes glazed, knowing that his chances of ever adding a World Cup winners’ medal to his groaning trophy cabinet are now over.
But football does not pause long. If the king is dead, long live the new king. At 19, most of us were sleeping off a hangover after spending too much of our student loan in the union bar. At 19, Kylian Mbappe has just produced the most astonishing individual performance of this tournament.
The France number 10 was everything the Argentina number 10 wasn’t here, exuding the quality that used to be Messi’s trademark: he was the man who made the difference.
Anyone who feared that, following the spirited delights of the group stage, Russia 2018 would be submerged in cagey caution should have been watching this game. It was magnificently bonkers, a heavyweight slugfest of unhinged glory, in which superb goals were swapped with a cavalier flourish, that fizzed with energy and commitment until the last second of added time. Exactly 20 years on from Argentina against England, it was like St Etienne all over again in the Kazan Arena.
And for the French supporters, this was the performance they had long craved. This was the France that, Didier Deschamps’ small army of critics insist, was there all along, stifled by his unimaginative tactics. The France of youth and energy and adventure. The France with an average five years younger than their opponents. This was the France of Kylian Mbappe.
The PSG striker gave his first warning that this was the game he would make his own as early as ten minutes. A lovely free-kick from Paul Pogba set him free, running at Argentina’s arthritic defence, who resorted to type, scything him down in a sandwich between Javier Mascherano and Nicolas Tagliafico. But Argentina did not – or perhaps could not – heed the warning. Not long after, he then galloped like Michael Owen in 98 from his own half into area, where he was promptly taken down by Marcos Rojo. Antoine Griezmann’s penalty was cool, calm and collected.
Argentina were not be cowed. Sure the tactics dreamed up by their managerial team of Messi and Mascherano were not controlling the game as they would wish. But they still had talent lurking. Angel Di Maria, who had given a fine impression of the invisible man for the first half hour, suddenly turned into the Incredible Hulk, smashing a thirty yard strike past Lloris for the equaliser. It was the kind of shot which, if he had attempted it while wearing a Manchester United shirt, would have endangered the occupants of the Stretford End’s Row Z.
The South Americans even took the lead when Messi finally found some space in the French box and saw his tame shot, which Lloris had well covered, spin off the heel of Gabriel Mercado into the net.
But much as the Kazan Arena resembled the Bombanero on matchday, with the stands bouncing the a blue and white thrum and Diego Maradona flying in the executive boxes, France always look likely to cease back control.
With N’golo Kante tracking Messi everywhere he went and Pogba growing more and more influential alongside him, they found an equaliser with Benjamin Pavard’s Di Maria-bettering piledriver.
But this was to be the game that announced to the world a new hero. First Mbappe danced through the leaden-footed Argentine back line to give France the lead, then he finished off the move of the tournament, which began with Lloris’s short pass and ended with his sublime shot into the corner.
When he was substituted with five minutes to go, even the thousands wearing vertical striped shirts were obliged to acknowledged that they were in the presence of the new world order.
The stats from today’s match
- France have reached the quarter-finals in consecutive World Cup tournaments for the first time.
- France are unbeaten in their last nine World Cup meetings with South American nations (W5 D4), since losing 1-2 against Argentina in the 1978 tournament.
- This was just the fifth time Argentina have conceded 4+ goals in a World Cup match, and first since losing 0-4 to Germany in the 2010 quarter-final.
- Argentina are the first team to score at least three goals but still lose a World Cup match since the USSR vs Belgium in 1986 (3-4).
- France scored with all four of their shots on target in this match. They’d scored three goals from 12 shots on target in the group stages.
- There were eight yellow cards in this match, equalling the most shown in a single game so far at the 2018 World Cup (also Belgium vs Panama).
- Seven of the eight shots on target in this match were scored, with the exception being Argentina’s Lionel Messi in the 85th minute.
- France’s Kylian Mbappe became the first teenager to score at least twice in a World Cup match since Pele netted twice for Brazil against Sweden in the 1958 final.
- France forward Kylian Mbappe became the first teenager to score multiple goals in a World Cup tournament since Michael Owen for England in 1998.
- France have never lost an international match in which Antoine Griezmann has scored for them (W17 D2 L0).
- At 30.16 yards, Angel Di Maria’s equaliser for Argentina was the longest range goal scored so far in the 2018 World Cup.
- Benjamin Pavard’s goal was his first for France in what was his ninth appearance for Les Bleus.
- Argentina’s Lionel Messi has played 756 minutes of football in World Cup knockout stage matches, but has failed to score a single goal.
- Argentina’s Lionel Messi is the only player to have delivered an assist in each of the last four World Cup tournaments.