Lionel Messi’s hopes of World Cup glory were extinguished in spectacular fashion as France’s new kid on the block, Kylian Mbappe, conjured a masterly performance as Les Blues edged Argentina 4-3 in the first pre-quarterfinal of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Saturday.
It will forever be remembered as a match that was lit up by some virtuoso performances, but it was the 19-year-old Mbappe who stood tallest among all the giants at the Kazan Arena with a second-half brace.
His searing pace that saw him blast pace four defenders to win a penalty, which Antoine Griezmann cooly converted, set the tone for the match and while the Euro 2016 finalists dominated the early exchanges, they couldn’t really build on their lead.
Olivier Giroud may have been leading the line but for the first 20 minutes or so, it was all about Mbappe and the sheer discomfort he caused the Argentine backline.
Argentina looked like they would be lucky to head into the interval with a 1-0 deficit but remarkably, Angel Di Maria would ensure that they went in level with a piledriver from 30 yards out.
It looked like the tide had been changed for the good for the shellshocked Les Blues conceded within minutes of the restart.
Messi’s low shot was somehow turned in by the alert Gabriel Mercado in the 48th minute and suddenly, Didier Deschamps’ men were feeling the heat.
A moment of inspiration is what France needed to get back in the tie and that’s exactly what they got, albeit from the unlikeliest of sources.
Young right-back Benjamim Pavard executed the finest half-volley you’ll ever see, arriving at the top of the box at the right time to slam home Lucas Hernandez’s cross from the other end and then Mbappe would scramble another to put them back in the lead.
To put the result of the game beyond doubt, France utilised their pace on the counter to hit Argentina with a sucker punch and it was Mbappe who would apply the finishing touches to a sweeping move.
Substitute Sergio Aguero would reduce the deficit deep in injury-time, but it was too little too late and France held on for the win.
They await the winners of the Portugal-Uruguay tie, which takes place later on Saturday, in the quarters now.