- 1998 was a glorious year for soccer in France. Kylian Mbappe was born that December.
- France also won the World Cup that year on their home soil with Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry and Marcel Desailly playing starring roles. They were nicknamed by the press the team génération black, blanc, beur.
- Louis Vuitton had a somewhat bizarre ad campaign in 2010 ahead of that year’s World Cup featuring Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane. Three members of the most exclusive Pantheon were photographed by Annie Leibovitz in a Madrid bar playing foosball. With the way the afternoon Spanish light is entering the room, they are existing in some type of soccer after life.
- Lionel Messi secured entry into that same Pantheon years before. We know that every time we watch Messi play, regardless of the results and especially during national team play with its small sample sizes. National team play is all about imperfections and representation.
- We watch Kylian Mbappe knowing he could join Maradona, Pele, Zidane and Messi in that same rarefied realm.
- France has the highest transfer value ranking in the 2018 World Cup at $1.6 billion.
- Kylian Mbappe was sold by Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain last year for $214 million.
- France defeated Argentina 4-3 in the opening match of the knockout stage in the 2018 World Cup. Goals were plentiful, but it didn’t appear they would be initially and even the Expected Goal sum was just 1.6-1.0 in favor of France.
- In the opening 11 minutes, France was prepared to sit back and absorb Argentina’s deliberate build-up play. Messi neither had space to dribble and nobody to pass to when playing deeper. France was not bothered by any of it and they knew absorbing Argentina would create ever-increasing chances going the other way.
- Then Kylian Mbappe happened.
- Mbappe broke through the middle of the field with so much pace and touch to overwhelm Argentina single-handedly on the counter before being brought down for a penalty.
- Argentina somehow took the lead in this match after goals from Angel di Maria in the 41st minute and Gabriel Mercado in the 48th minute. The gravity of Messi setup the first while the second was a Mercado redirection off a Messi strike.
- Benjamin Pavard equalized nine minutes later with an improbable volley.
- Mbappe’s scored in the 64th minute when he surged to a loose ball after a cross and finished with his left foot.
- Mbappe’s second goal came on an elegantly placed pass from Olivier Giroud that he coolly one-touched into the left side of goal. The goal began with Hugo Lloris playing it out of the back 11 seconds before Mbappe’s finish.
- Mbappe is the first teenager to score two or more goals in the knockout stage of the World Cup since Pele.
- There will be no Hands of God in the VAR era. Instead in this tournament, we are left with the Hand to Forehead. But Messi was resurrected after that Croatia loss against Nigeria to score a three-touch wonder goal of pure economy of movement in the first half, and then ecstatically climb the back of Marcos Rojo after his match-winner in the second half. Both moments transcend actual results. Messi felt overmatched and lonely during so many moments in Argentina's four matches in this World Cup, but not in those.
- If Messi sticks around for Qatar in 2022, his evolution to a deep-playing midfielder will be complete. Argentina was a tactical, dissonant mess in this World Cup and Messi didn’t have enough slalom runs per game in his 31-year-old legs to overcome it. This edition of Argentina will be known for its awkwardness and not at all for any missed opportunities.
- Argentina scored a desperate stoppage time goal to make it 4-3 on a perfectly placed pass from Messi to Sergio Aguero into the box. Any future with Messi in it for Argentina will look more like this.
- France feels inevitable. Either in this World Cup or one in the very near future. They still have some tactical issues Didier Deschamps needs to figure out, but they are loaded.
A World Cup Abstract: France 4, Argentina 3