It kinda feels like we just watched the torch being passed from Lionel Messi to Kylian Mbappe. The latter was not born when France last won the World Cup in 1998, and is 12 years younger than the Argentinian great. But in a game with 22 players, two stood out on the day, and youth would best experience.
If you didn’t know Kylian Mbappe’s name yet, then you certainly know it now.
In the 11th minute of France’s electrifying, 4-3 Round of 16 win over Argentina, Mbappe may have unleashed the run of the tournament so far.
I mean, for Godsakes, watch this young man take off (the full thing is 32 seconds in).
His final touch with blazing burst of speed didn’t directly lead to a goal, but it did draw the penalty that teammate Antoine Greizmann converted to open France’s account.
Tied at two in the second half, Mbappe took over, slotting two goals home and announcing to the world that he was here.
In the 64th minute, look at the control he has with two touches in the box, then another burst of speed to meet the ball and get on the score sheet.
In the 68th minute, it took a measured and unchecked run down the right flank and one touch for Mbappe to get his brace.
Oh, and about that other guy and that other team.
Argentina’s team has been an absolute mess this entire tournament. At times they’ve been stale on the pitch, yet still gotten it done. Off the pitch, they’ve been wholly controversial. There was reported mutiny in which Argentinian players asked for their manager to be fired with a match remaining in the group stage. Coach Jorge Sampaoli’s tactical notebook got caught on camera, and we’re still not sure if he even actually picked the team for the last two matches.
On a macro level there is nothing remotely surprising about Argentina crashing out at this juncture of the tournament. Everything pointed to it. But the way the thing played out remains a testament to this team’s frustrating ability to do just enough to get through. Even the last kick of the game against France nearly forced extra time, and there was a legitimate chance that this team could have limped into the next round.
Messi assisted two of Argentina’s three goals tonight. It’s unfair to say he himself failed in a team game and a squad going through so much turmoil. But that doesn’t mean Messi’s bowing out of this tournament covered in glory. It’s entirely possible that we just watched Messi’s last game in an Argentina uniform.
Like his previous three World Cups, it’s a disappointing end for perhaps the greatest player to ever live.
Potential is a beautiful thing.
We can applaud the career of Messi, but watching every game of his is a reminder that he can’t do this forever. He’s 31 years old, and while he’s still playing nearly as well as ever, there can only be so much longer of this. Time comes for us all.
Mbappe is nothing but potential and possibility. He’s already this good at 19, and only going to get better. We can love Messi and still geek out because KYLIAN MBAPPE IS ONLY 19 YEARS OLD. Today belonged to him. With one of the two best players of his generation — possibly ever — on the other team, Mbappe was head and shoulders the best player on the field in the biggest game of his very young life.