France beat Argentina 4-3 to enter quarter-finals
Sports Reporter: Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe ran riot for France as they defeated Argentina 4-3 to reach the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
The 19-year-old Paris Saint-Germain striker ripped Argentina’s porous defence to shreds with an electric display at the Kazan Arena, scoring twice to eliminate Lionel Messi’s side.
Mbappe drew an early penalty from Marcos Rojo which Antoine Griezmann converted to open the scoring, before Angel Di Maria’s long range strike and Gabriel Mercado’s fortunate deflection either side of half-time turned the game on its head.
However, Benjamin Pavard hit a sensational sliced equalizer for France and the unstoppable Mbappe added two more to leave Sergio Aguero’s injury-time header a mere consolation.
France are the first side into the quarter-finals and go to Nizhny Novgorod Friday for a last eight meeting with Uruguay or Portugal.
“I am happy with the performance though we made some mistakes defensively,” France coach Didier Deschamps said in first interviews. “Now we have some time to prepare for the next game.”
Mbappe’s goals made him the first teenager to score at least twice in a World Cup match since Pele against Sweden in 1958, but his game was more reminiscent of another Brazilian, in Ronaldo.
“This group can do great things,” Mbpape said. “It’s great to do it in a big competiton. But we have achieved nothing so far so we have to keep going and do all we can to achieve something in this World Cup.”
As Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli predicted Friday, France sat deep and tried to spring forward aggressively on the counter-attack.
It worked, with Mbappe’s speed terrorising Argentina’s bewildered defence, who accepted yellow cards as fair punishment for illegally halting the forward.
Griezmann struck the crossbar with a free-kick that left goalkeeper Franco Armani helpless, before firing France ahead from the spot.
Mbappe’s electric 75-metre charge downfield was ended by Rojo in the penalty area with a shove as Argentina’s unlikely goalscoring hero against Nigeria turned villain.
Griezmann, who scored a penalty against Australia in France’s opener, sent Armani the wrong way for his second goal of the tournament and it looked like the floodgates would open.
Mbappe was again brought down after another thrilling run forward, this time by Nicolas Tagliafico outside the area, and Paul Pogba smashed the free-kick over the bar.
Argentina, with Messi deployed as a false nine while established strikers Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala sat on the bench, were creating nothing at all.
However, two surprising strikes either side of half-time gave Argentina belief.
Di Maria, with no options for a pass 30 yards out, rifled an effort into the top corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal in the 41st minute.
Then Mercado deflected Messi’s low shot home less than three minutes into the second half, without appearing to know much about it, delighting a Kazan Arena filled almost exclusively with Argentina fans.
“Today we fought against a very good team,” Mercado said. “We gave everything but could not achieve our aim which was to reach the final.”
Griezmann nearly crept in to level when substitute Federico Fazio’s pass-back bypassed goalkeeper Armani, before Pavard’s sensational equaliser from 25 yards, which arced into the top corner.
Argentina wavered and Mbappe took full advantage, bursting onto the ball after a scramble in the box and firing a low strike under Armani to send France ahead in the 64th minute.
The striker slotted in his second just four minutes later, finishing a slick, speedy team move which dismantled Argentina’s defence again and will go down as one of the goals of the tournament.
Aguero headed home from Messi’s fine cross in stoppage time but it was too little, too late for Argentina’s devastated stars.