Going into this Fifa World Cup, holders France have had to deal with an injury crisis that’s seen 2018 stars N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema among the list of players ruled out of the tournament in Qatar.
While the injuries have been a huge concern for head coach Didier Deschamps and his side’s hopes of retaining the trophy, Les Bleus do have a powerful weapon in their arsenal: Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappé.
In France’s World Cup triumph in Russia four years ago, a 19-year-old Mbappé scored four goals, including one against Croatia in the final. Now, at the ripe old age of 23, the striker is once again excelling on the biggest stage of all.
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Mbappé makes the difference
France became the first team to qualify for the round of 16 after two victories from their group D games – and Mbappé has played a starring role in both. In the 4-1 win over Australia, he scored the fourth and set up one of Olivier Giroud’s goals. Then in the 2-1 win over Denmark he netted both goals, including a late 86th-minute winner.
Pundits the world over have been waxing lyrical about the forward since his star turn on Saturday. With seven goals in nine World Cup appearances, Mbappé’s double “made the difference” against the Danes, said French newspaper Le Monde. In The Mirror Josh O’Brien praised the “mercurial” No.10 for being “at the heart of everything positive” for the French, while broadcaster Sky Sports led with a headline which said Mbappé “lights up” the World Cup.
“What a performance” it was from the star in France’s team, said Ethan van Ristell on Eurosport. By notching another brace, it takes his tally for his country to 31 goals, “moving him ahead of Jean-Pierre Papin and Just Fontaine in the goalscoring rankings”. He is also now level with Zinedine Zidane, and sits joint seventh in the all-time goalscoring list for Les Bleus.
‘Pace, goals and brilliance’
Even Deschamps was lost for words when asked about his star striker. “Kylian, what can I say?” said the France boss. An “exceptional player”, he has “the ability to be decisive, stand up from the crowd and make the difference”.
It was Mbappé’s “pace, goals and brilliance” which fired France to glory four years ago and, despite a catalogue of injuries this year, Les Bleus “look to have the best squad”, said John Cross in The Mirror. In Mbappé, they have “a striker with everything” who has “underlined” why he is “surely the best player” at this World Cup.
Is Mbappé the best player on the planet? It’s “hard to argue” against it, said Sky Sports, although Erling Haaland “may have something to say about that”. Best player at the tournament, then. “That’s a safe bet.”
In the final round of group D matches on Wednesday, France face Tunisia at Education City Stadium and Australia take on Denmark at Al Janoub Stadium. Both games kick off at 3pm (GMT).
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