Kylian Mbappe became just the second teenager to score two goals in a World Cup match, and he drew the foul that led to a penalty for a third as France advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-3 victory over a disjointed Argentina side that also opened speculation on Lionel Messi’s future.
The 19-year-old Mbappe joined the legendary Pele as the only players to have at least a brace in a World Cup contest, with the Brazilian recording a hat trick in the 1958 final versus Sweden at the age of 17. The PSG starlet’s pace flustered Argentina all match long as Les Bleus returned to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive tournament for the first time in club history.
Antoine Griezmann converted the penalty Mbappe created and Benjamin Pavard’s first international goal was a world-class strike in the 57th minute started France’s fightback after Gabriel Mercado had given Argentina a 2-1 lead three minutes after the restart.
France will play the winner of the Uruguay-Portugal match in the quarterfinals Friday at Nizhny Novogorod.
Messi assisted on Mercado’s goal and Sergio Aguero’s header in the third minute of stoppage time that gave the two-time champion a glimmer of hope, but Aguero’s cross into the penalty area was re-directed wide by Maxi Meza as the disjointed Albiceleste failed to return to the title game for the second consecutive World Cup.
It also opened the forum on Messi’s legacy since his international future is uncertain. The 31-year-old dragged a heavily imbalanced Argentina side into the World Cup on the strength of a hat trick in the final South American qualifier and had a key goal in the win over Nigeria to help escape group stage.
But Messi again failed to score in a knockout round match, and all six goals spanning his four World Cup appearances have come in the group stages. The superstar was a lightning rod of controversy throughout his stay in Russia, missing a penalty in the opening match against Iceland and playing arguably the worst match of his career in an Albiceleste shirt in a 3-0 loss to Croatia that showed just how fragile the South American power was even with one of the top players in the world.
And all that does not even speak to the dysfunctional dynamic between Messi and Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli, whose tactics and personnel decisions were derided throughout the World Cup. Once more, Aguero was not in the starting XI, and strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala were unused substitutes in the final 20 minutes with La Albiceleste needing two goals to equalize.
France immediately asked questions of Argentina, with Mbappe’s pace proving problematic. Javier Mascherano fouled him 25 yards from goal, and Griezmann thumped his left-footed free kick off the crossbar in the ninth minute as Albiceleste keeper Franco Armani watched on helplessly.
Mbappe continued to torment Argentina’s backline, collecting a loose ball in midfield and tearing past Mascherano into the final third. The PSG winger smartly pushed the ball ahead of himself and was hauled down by Marcos Rojo, and referee Alireza Faghani rightly pointed to the spot and gave Rojo a yellow card.
Griezmann sent Armani the wrong way with his attempt, converting his second penalty in as many tries in this tournament. Eight minutes later, Mbappe again drew a foul in a dangerous area as this time Nicolas Taglifico was booked. Paul Pogba, though, failed to punish La Albiceleste as his attempt from just outside the penalty are went well over the bar.
France keeper Hugo Lloris was finally pressed into action in the 25th minute as he raced off his line to prevent Enzo Perez from getting a clear shot on target. While Argentina was dominating possession, N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi were forming a competent shield in front of France’s central defenders in midfield that Messi could not pick out players in attack as he kept dropping deeper to find the ball.
Griezmann was active on both ends of the pitch, tackling the ball away from Messi in the penalty area as he ran stride for stride with the Barcelona ace. But Argentina would find an equalizer against the run of play shortly before halftime. After Messi earned a corner that resulted in an Argentina throw-in from the left, Cristian Pavon played it to Ever Banega, who slid a pass to his right to Angel Di Maria.
Given plenty of time and space, Di Maria unleashed a rasping 30-yard left-footed strike straight on that flew into the upper right corner past a diving Lloris in the 41st minute and gaining a measure of atonement for his underachieving play throughout the World Cup until that moment.
La Albiceleste then took the lead in equally unexpected fashion. Di Maria earned a free kick that Banega clipped into the penalty area from deep on the left. Pogba tried to clear it, but it deflected to Messi, who spun in the penalty area to clear some space for himself. His left-footed shot lacked pace, but Mercado was at the right place and the right time to deflect it with his left foot from eight yards as Lloris was stranded wrong-footed.
France’s equalizer nine minutes later that swung the momentum back in its direction came from a moment of magic. Lucas Hernandez’s cross from the left was deflected and bounded across the penalty area. Pavard loaded up his right foot and lashed a fizzing, spinning strike from just outside the penalty are on the right and inside the left post just below the upper 90.
On the front foor once more, Les Bleus took a 3-2 lead through Mbappe in the 64th minute. Hernandez played another low cross in from the left, and ball pinged among six players before it fell to Mbappe. The teen stabbed it to his left with his right foot to create some space before taking a sharp-angled shot with his left foot from six yards that Armani did not get down fast enough to stop.
Four minutes later, France doubled its lead through an end-to-end goal that was equal parts wondrous and typified Argentina’s tournament-long struggles. Lloris started the play with a simple pass to Kante, who played it into the midfield circle for Griezmann.
He turned it to Matuidi on the left, and the Juventus midfielder played it back into the middle into the path of Olivier Giroud, whose first touch was a deft through pass behind Argentina’s backline that Mbappe raced onto and first-timed a right-footed curling shot away from Armani and into the lower left corner of the net.
Giroud spurned a chance to make it 5-2 almost immediately thereafter, lashing the side-netting after being sent through by Pogba as Argentina teetered on the edge of disaster. Mascherano made two interventions while on a booking that could have resulted in his sending off, but Faghani failed to reach into his pocket.
Messi had a chance to draw La Albiceleste cloer in the 85th minute as Mascherano forced Nabil Fekir into a turnover and passed ahead, but after jinking around three defenders, Messi did not have enough steam on his shot to challenge Lloris from 15 yards straight on.
Messi, though, would not waste a second chance as a playmaker, curling a cross from the right to Aguero, whose leaping header from six yards went inside the left post. Meza’s re-direct of Aguero’s cross proved to be the last kick of the game as France deservedly moved on, but not without some nervy moments.