KAZAN, Russia: Teenager Kylian Mbappe scored two goals in four minutes to send a youthful France charging into the World Cup quarter-finals and Lionel Messi home with a thrilling 4-3 win over Argentina at the Kazan Arena on Saturday (Jun 30).
The 19-year-old forward’s electric pace caused Argentina problems all afternoon and his twin strikes helped France overturn a 2-1 deficit to set up a meeting with Uruguay or Portugal, who play later on Saturday.
“It’s very rewarding because of what was at stake in this particular match,” French coach Didier Deschamps said of the performance of his team. “On the other side there were a lot of highly experienced players that we handled pretty well … I’ve learnt a lot (and) the team has showed what it could do.”
Messi provided assists for two goals but the 31-year-old was otherwise subdued in the “false nine” role and his fourth, and possibly final, crack at winning the World Cup was destined to end in disappointment.
While Mbappe was the most influential player on the pitch, Argentina’s Angel Di Maria and France full back Benjamin Pavard fought out a private contest for the best goal of the match with two magnificent long-range strikes.
Di Maria’s goal cancelled out Antoine Griezmann’s early penalty to equalise for Argentina just before the break while Pavard’s in the 57th minute levelled the scores at 2-2 after Argentina had edged ahead through Gabriel Mercado.
Mbappe, the first teenager since Brazilian great Pele in the 1958 final to score two goals in one World Cup match, then took over to send Argentina slumping out of the finals before the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002.
“It’s flattering to be the second one after Pele, but we must keep it in context,” Mbappe said.
“In a World Cup you have all the top level players, it’s an opportunity to show what your abilities are, there is no better place than a World Cup.”
Twice champions Argentina got a consolation through substitute striker Sergio Aguero in added time but they were simply unable to cope with Mbappe’s pace from his first surge towards the box after nine minutes.
Javier Mascherano brought him down and Griezmann crashed the subsequent free kick off the bar from 25 metres but France only had to wait a couple of minutes to open the scoring.
Mbappe set off on another driving run from well inside his own half and Marcos Rojo, well beaten for pace, bundled him to the deck inside the area.
Griezmann’s strike from the spot was not as clean as his free kick but goalkeeper Franco Armani went the wrong way and the Frenchman converted his second penalty of tournament.
Argentina looked shell-shocked at Mbappe’s early onslaught but Jorge Sampaoli’s side were full of big match experience and four minutes before the break they were level.
Di Maria received a pass from the left, took one touch to tee up the ball and hit the sweetest shot into the top-left corner of Hugo Lloris’s goal from 40 metres.
Three minutes into the second half and Argentina were ahead, Messi curling a shot hopefully towards Lloris and right back Mercado reacting instinctively to deflect the ball into the net.
The Argentina fans were in full voice but their joy did not last long with France restoring parity when Pavard pounced on an over-cooked cross some 20 metres out and lashed it on the half-volley into the net.
Mbappe’s first goal came seven minutes later when he snared a loose ball, taking one touch to race past his marker and firing it home with his left foot through Armani’s dive.
His second came after 68 minutes at the end of a flowing French move with Olivier Giroud providing the subtlest of touches to lay the ball into Mbappe’s path and the teenager finishing right-footed with elan.
Argentina continued to fight over the last 20 minutes but Aguero’s header from Messi’s cross in stoppage time was too little, too late.
“This is very painful, especially since the players have made a huge effort,” Sampaoli said. “It was a very, very difficult game, the players gave everything on the pitch but they have not achieve the goal here in Russia.”