‘A scintillating performance’: Kylian Mbappé gave his all in World Cup final

LUSAIL, Qatar — Kylian Mbappé sat on the bench — legs apart, his navy France jersey pulled up high enough to cover his entire head. Cameras flashed in his face, looking for a tear or two, but that’s what he had to do to escape. If only for a moment.

Mbappé finally got up and took a deep breath. Argentina just beat the defending champion Lesson Blues in an epic World Cup final via penalties after a 3-3 draw in extra time. And it was Mbappé who willed an otherwise drained France side into a game that looked lost for most of regulation.

France’s Kylian Mbappé looks despondent after the defending champions fell short in their bid to repeat. (Photo by Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Down 2-0 in the 80th minute, Mbappé scored two goals in less than two minutes to force extra time. Then, after Lionel Messi scored heroically to give Argentina a 3-2 lead in the 109th minute, Mbappé responded with his third goal in the 118th to make it 3-3 and force penalties.

“We came back from the dead,” said French manager Didier Deschamps.

Argentina-France highlights

Argentina-France highlights

In an epic World Cup final, Lionel Messi earned his long-awaited title, and France was denied its bid for back-to-back championships.

Mbappé became the first men’s player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966. Carli Lloyd did it for the United States in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final.

His brave scoring barrage took his grand total of goals here in Qatar to eight, earning him the Golden Boot for the tournament. Mbappé has now scored 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches, just like Pelé decades ago. Former Germany star Miroslav Klose holds the all-time record with 16, which is one Mbappé will almost certainly break. Probably in four years.

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“It was a brilliant performance, magnificent,” Deschamps said of his star. “Kylian really left his mark on this final. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave it the way he would have liked, which is why he was as disappointed at the end of the game as the rest of his teammates.”

However, to know something about Mbappé is to understand that he does not care about individual awards or glory. His performance on Sunday night, which was certainly good enough for France to win, was one of a player with an unwavering refusal to quit.

So, when he walked on stage to accept the small golden scoring trophy in the shape of a soccer ball, he didn’t smile. He wore the same dejected and solemn expression as he and his teammates received their silver medals.

Earlier in the tournament, when France beat Poland in the round of 16 after Mbappé scored twice, he was asked about what it might be like to finish as the top scorer. But he shook his head at the question and digressed.

“If I win, I’ll be happy, but that’s not why I’m here,” Mbappé said then. “I’m here to win the World Cup.”

France could not do it.

The fairytale ending of Messi, Mbappé’s Paris Saint-Germain teammate, finally achieving the one thing that had eluded the living legend was too big to overcome.

The first 70 minutes of the game were a disaster for France. Argentina completely overwhelmed and overwhelmed Les Bleus and even from half-time France looked ready to surrender.

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni organized his defense well and kept France’s attack in check. By half-time, Mbappé had just 11 touches and France had no shots – on or off target. Every time Mbappé got close to the ball, a combination of Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero and Enzo Fernandez were there to pile on the pressure.

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“Our players were 100% fit, maybe some stiffness,” said Deschamps. “But that’s not an excuse. We didn’t show the same energy we had in previous games. That’s why we just weren’t in the game our first hour or so.”

Then in the 71st minute, Mbappé got his first shot. The ball flew over the crossbar, but it felt like something was brewing.

In the 80th minute, Argentine defender Nicolas Otamendi committed an unnecessary foul on Randal Kolo Muani in the box. Mbappé converted the spot-kick to give France a boost.

Then 97 seconds later, he scored again after a give-and-go with Marcus Thuram led to the 23-year-old forward slotting the ball past goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez into the bottom right corner.

In added time, France had the momentum. Argentina appeared confused and momentarily lost their composure. Messi had a silly foul on Eduardo Camavinga to start, and players on both sides were exhausted and a little chippy.

Then Argentina got some chances. Lautaro Martinez had rugby chances that were fearlessly saved by French captain Hugo Lloris. The game became tougher and more stressful. Cameras showed French President Emmanuel Macron in a box with his sleeves rolled up.

In the 109th minute, Messi scored and the majority of the 88,966 fans roared. Martinez’s right-footed shot from the right side of the box was saved by Lloris, but Messi got hold of the rebound and fired in his second goal of the game. Jules Konde tried to save it, but the ball went over the goal line, giving Argentina the lead.

Would Argentina hold on this time, or would France mount another comeback?

Mbappé ensured the latter.

In the 116th minute, Gonzalo Montiel had a handball in the box, and Mbappé scored his third goal on the ensuing penalty kick.

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“It changed things in the blink of an eye,” said Deschamps. “But it wasn’t enough.”

Kylian Mbappe equalized in the 116th minute

Kylian Mbappe equalized in the 116th minute

Mbappe’s penalty eventually sent the game into a shootout, where France ultimately fell short.

In the end, the World Cup final came down to a shootout, with Argentina taking four penalties to France’s two.

The night ended with Messi and his teammates lifting the coveted trophy as their loyal supporters, outnumbering their French counterparts by the tens of thousands and turning Lusail Stadium into a home field advantage, draped their blue and white striped jerseys over their heads shook. in uncontrollable celebration.

Early in the tournament, Deschamps said: “Kylian can make a difference in a game on his own.” He did as much as he could – so much so that France deserved to win as much as Argentina. Les Bleus wanted to make history and become only the third team to win back-to-back World Cup titles.

The good thing for France though is that Mbappé still has many more World Cups ahead of him. It was only his second. His disappointment in Qatar will surely fuel him, at least through 2026.

“It wasn’t meant to be,” Deschamps said, before later adding: “I’m not worried. I’m optimistic about the future.”

Just like France should be, thanks to Mbappé.

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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