World Cup: France’s Kylian Mbappe is doing things no 19yo should do in a semi-final – FIFA World Cup – Russia 2018
French phenom Kylian Mbappe is playing football a seasoned star at the top of his game would be proud of — and he’s only 19-years-old.
We’ve already waxed lyrical about Mbappe before, after he took Argentina apart in the round of 16, just as it looked like France was finally getting its act together in Russia.
Now France is into the World Cup final, and it’s in no small part due to Mbappe’s wizardry on Les Bleus’ flanks.
Frankly speaking, no player should be doing what Mbappe is doing at his age. Not unless they’re a Lionel Messi, a Cristiano Ronaldo, or even a Pele.
Mbappe is a different player to all those aforementioned all-time greats, and certainly hasn’t achieved anything (yet) to justify that sort of comparison.
Kylian Mbappe’s pace is already scary, but his movement with the ball speaks of a grand football intelligence. (AP: Petr David Josek)
But the ingredients are there, and they’re practically sizzling in the cauldron as France gears up for a potential second World Cup title in Monday morning’s (AEST) final.
From the off, Belgium knew Mbappe was trouble
Immediately from kick-off, the youngster made a statement to Belgium that his markers were in for a world of pain throughout the semi-final in St Petersburg.
Receiving the ball on the right flank near the halfway line, Mbappe feinted to go infield before cutting away sharply, wrong-footing Jan Vertonghen, before hitting the nitro afterburners to comprehensively outpace Moussa Dembele.
His cross asked plenty of questions, but the onrushing French forwards could not find the telling touch to make something of it.
By full-time the statistics would tell the story of a Belgian side dominant in possession, almost passing France off the park in parts.
Indeed, six Belgian players racked up more completed passes than the top Frenchman (N’Golo Kante, 40 out of 43). But tellingly, France created far more chances.
Kylian Mbappe wrong-footed Jan Vertonghen right from kick-off in St Petersburg. (Reuters: Max Rossi)
Mbappe led the chances-created metric by several country miles, creating six for himself and teammates, ahead of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann (three each).
So it was this threat throughout that proved so occupying for the Belgian defender’s mindsets that no matter how calm the Red Devils could be in possession, Mbappe and company would find some way to create turmoil.
In the 12th minute was the perfect example. Pogba showed tremendous skill to beat his man in his own half, control the ball and thread a delightful through ball for the rapid Mbappe, only for Belgian stopper Thibaut Courtois to smother.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, a regular pundit on French football away from the club game, has long been an admirer of the 19-year-old’s talents.
“He is the type of player who always makes you hopeful when he gets the ball that he’s going to do something special. Watching him soothes the heart,” Wenger told BeIN Sport.
Not if you’re from Belgium, mind you. Mbappe looked determined to craft something for France. Cutting in, he drew in three Belgian markers before giving all three short shrift, touching the ball through to the onrushing Benjamin Pavard, who saw his shot saved well by Courtois.
The best was still to come from the Paris St Germain forward.
France was 1-0 up thanks to Paul Pogba’s corner being glanced home by Samuel Umtiti, but Mbappe was the one trying to keep relentless pressure on his opponents.
Receiving a clever flick from Blaise Matuidi in the box, Mbappe showed he was no respecter of seniority or reputation as he played in an impudent back-heel through a crowded area to find Olivier Giroud.
That Giroud could not find a clean shot on goal was symptomatic more of the forward’s cold form in front of goal than Mbappe’s pass, which capped off a stunning showing for the final-bound French team.
Against either Croatia or England, Mbappe could find himself rampaging on a happy hunting ground with history beckoning and destiny waiting to be fulfilled.