FIFA World Cup 2018: France send Messi and Co packing | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 01, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:53 AM, July 01, 2018

France send Messi and Co packing

A superstar in the making sent a superstar out of the World Cup as France prevailed over Argentina 4-3 in the first blockbuster World Cup round of 16 game at the Kazan Arena yesterday.

Kylian Mbappe, the 19-year-old French forward, set up the first goal and then struck twice in space of four minutes after the break to effectively dash Argentina's hopes of their third World Cup title, and more importantly superstar Lionel Messi's dream of winning the biggest prize at his fourth attempt.

It looked like Messi was heading for victory when Gabriel Mercado deflected his shot into the net, giving Argentina a 2-1 lead three minutes after resumption. But after Benjamin Pavard made it 2-2 in the 57th minute, it was once again the showtime Mbappe, who killed the game as a contest with strikes in the 64th and 68th minutes.

Argentina striker Sergio Aguero pulled one goal back third minute into the injury time when he headed in a Messi cross from the right, but it was too late and too little for a side that paid the price for having a defence which collapsed at the drop of a hat. 

Messi tried his best to be on the ball, but mostly to be denied by solid French defence. It was, however, a game to be best remembered for Mbappe's pace and precision.

In the first 45 minutes, it was a mesmerising display of speed from France's young prodigy, who with his galloping run, left the ageing legs of Argentina in complete disarray. The 19-year-old Paris Saint-Germain forward won a free-kick just outside the box in the eighth minute -- he was bundled by Nicolas Tagliafico and Javier Mascherano. Antonio Griezmann's shot from the resultant free-kick just outside the box came off the crossbar. Three minute later Mbappe again broke free. It was a quick and intelligent free-kick from the Paul Pogba off his own half.

Mbappe ran like a leopard and this time left Mascherano in his wake but tripped by Marcos Rojo in the forbidden zone, leaving Iranian referee Alireza Faghani to point to the dreaded spot. Griezmann made no mistake this time -- a perfect left-footer that sent Armani the wrong way.

The unstoppable Mbappe created another opportunity in the 19th minute when he jetted down the middle but only to be tripped by Tagliafico. Pogba took a quick freekick but it went way over the bar. There was always a fear for a vulnerable Argentina defence against a quality attack and it was nakedly exposed against a quality French attack, which is not only sleek but also full of quality.

But the Albiceleste restored parity not only from their first shot at goal but also from an unlikely source. Di Maria had thus far been an abject failure in the tournament but he produced a stunning left-footer from way outside the box which sailed into the left-hand corner of the net past a full stretched Hugo Lloris.

It looked like Argentina had got all the luck when defender Gabriel Mercado flicked a misdirected Leonel Messi shot into the net three minutes after the break, Argentina fans erupted into joy. But that joy was short lived as Pavard restored parity in the 57th minute. It was a left-footed volley from the defender that will go all the way as one of the best goals of the tournament.

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