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30th Jun 2018

Kylian Mbappe shows he’s on course to reach Messi’s dizzying heights

Simon Lloyd

It was fitting, in a way, that Lionel Messi was here in the flesh to witness this. Maybe a little cruel, but fitting.

Undoubtedly one of the best to have ever taken to a football field, Messi was upstaged in Kazan on Saturday afternoon by a teenager from Paris.

In his short time in professional football, Kylian Mbappe has shown more than enough to suggest he’ll be a player we’ll be seeing plenty more of in the years to come. But this, the way he almost singlehandedly took Argentina apart, was a reminder that he could one day be spoken about in the same terms as Messi.

First, the raw pace. From a standing start, Mbappe had already breezed past three Argentina players in the early stages before doing something similar with little over ten minutes on the clock. This time, his run would end with a clumsy shove from Marcos Rojo and a penalty for France which Antoine Griezmann converted.

Minutes later, he latched on to a pass from Paul Pogba and was brought to the deck by another desperate challenge from the Argentina back line. Only a free-kick this time, but the signs were already there that the South Americans were struggling to cope with the youngster.

Unexpectedly, Jorge Sampaoli’s team hit back. Goals from Angel Di Maria and Gabriel Mercado either side of the half-time break gave them a 2-1 lead.

France responded. Mbappe responded. A sweetly struck shot from Benjamin Pavard levelled things, and then, minutes later, Didier Deschamps’ men took the lead.

The ball falling to him in a crowded area, at least four players obscured Mbappe’s sight of goal. Nobody would’ve blamed him for lashing his foot at it and hoping for the best. Instead, with a touch that few saw coming, he shifted the ball wide, deceiving virtually every other man in the penalty area and engineering an angle for himself to fire his shot through Franco Armani.

His second soon followed, coolly slotting home what proved to be the decisive goal of the game to round off a well-worked French move. Argentina’s backline simply didn’t have any answers.

There were comparisons to be made. To Pele, the only other teenager to have scored more than once in a World Cup game, but more obviously, to another Brazilian: Ronaldo. The blend of speed, explosive power, quick feet and finishing were all hallmarks of the man that guided Brazil to World Cup glory 16 years ago. Dare it be said, despite his tender years, this was the kind of performance that suggested Mbappe might be capable of doing something similar for France in the weeks ahead.

Comparisons to Messi would’ve been fair, too. There may be obvious differences in their playing styles, but this was a day when Mbappe put in the kind of performance where it seemed he was capable of anything – something Messi has done repeatedly over the last decade. It was also a day which strengthened the claim that of all the bright, young talents there are in world football at this moment in time, only Mbappe is capable of reaching the kind of level we’ve come to associate with Argentina’s number ten.

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