From death to life and back to death as Lionel Messi’s fourth World Cup ended in bitter, frustrating and all-too-familiar defeat on Saturday, with Argentina tumbling out of the tournament with a 4-3 loss to a suddenly impressive France in the round of 16.
France tore apart Argentina was a different team. And with its core — Mbappé and Griezmann up front, Paul Pogba and the enthusiastic N’Golo Kanté prevailing in midfield, and focus backs Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona) forming an unusually harmonious alliance — it might have what it takes to repeat its only triumph at the World Cup, on home soil in 1998.
At 19, Kylian Mbappe has just produced the most astonishing individual performance of this tournament.
The France number 10 was everything the Argentina number 10 wasn’t here, exuding the quality that used to be Messi’s trademark: he was the man who made the difference.
The 19-year-old Mbappé became only the second teenager to score two goals in a World Cup match — after Brazil’s Pelé in 1958. A star at Paris Saint-Germain, he immediately pushed back on any comparisons.
Antoine Griezmann scored France’s first goal, converting the penalty Mbappé had won, and right back Benjamin Pavard slashed in France’s second in the 57th minute — a volleyed goal that was the equal of Di Maria’s stunner — after some nervous moments early in the half.