World Cup: How far France goes might depend on Kylian Mbappe

The hardest thing about a World Cup isn’t winning the title. It repeats itself as a track list.

Eight countries have won a World Cup, six of them more than once. But only Brazil and Italy have won twice in a row. However, no team has successfully defended a title in six decades.

That is the challenge France faces in Qatar Les Bleus took a step closer to history on Sunday by brushing aside Poland 3-1 in the round of 16. The goals came from – who else? — Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe, who scored eight of France’s nine goals in this tournament.

For Mbappe, Sunday’s brace was his second at the World Cup and saw him lead the competition with five goals in four games, making him the favorite for both the Gold Ball (best player) and Golden Boot (top scorer) of the tournament – neither Mbappe said he takes care of it.

“The only goal for me is to win the world championship [and] now to win the next game,” Mbappe said. “I came here to win the World Cup, I didn’t come here to win the Golden Boot or the Golden Ball.”

Now the way forward will be more difficult as France meet England, fifth-placed team in the world and runners-up at the last European Championships, in Saturday’s quarter-finals. How far France go, coach Didier Deschamps said could depend on Mbappe.

“He’s something special,” said Deschamps. “He didn’t have his best match today. He knows it. But he can change a game in a moment. France needed a great Kylian Mbappe tonight and they got one.”

France is enjoying a football renaissance, although it’s not entirely homegrown. More than half of the players in the team’s World Cup squad are of African or Afro-Caribbean descent, as are eight of the 14 who reached the World Cup final four years ago.

Mbappe is part Cameroonian, part Algerian. Defender Jules Kounde is half Beninese, while Dayot Upamecano’s family comes from Guinea-Bissau. Forward Ousmane Dembele is Mauritanian, Senegalese and Malian.

The diversity is a product of the country’s colonial past, as the tricolor flew over large parts of north-west Africa. Many of the people there still speak French, have strong cultural ties to the country and often immigrate to France. While the football program has benefited from this, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

French players jump in the air and raise their arms as they run.

French players celebrate Sunday’s World Cup round of 16 win over Poland at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar.

(Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

“If you win, you are a French player, if you lose, you are a Senegalese player,” Patrice Evra, who was born in Senegal, grew up in Paris and made 81 appearances for France, told the Sun newspaper.

Born in Marseille, Zinedine Zidane was considered a foreigner by many French people because of his Algerian roots. That only changed when TV cameras caught him crying while singing the national anthem after the country’s World Cup victory in 1998.

France faced various problems at this World Cup as injuries forced them to start the tournament without some key players – forward Karim Benzema, midfielders Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Boubacar Kamara and defender Presnel Kimpembe. As a result, Deschamps’ side didn’t look as good as they did four years ago in Russia.

France were just seven minutes out of 630 in 2018. They were more than twice as long behind in their first game here, losing in the group stage for the first time in 12 years. In Russia, it was ridden by Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, who scored four goals each. This time it was Giroud and Mbappe who scored France’s first goal on Sunday.

As time was running out in the first half, Mbappe slid a pass into the box for Giroux, whose perfectly timed run earned him a step on Polish defender Jakub Kiwior. Giroux’s first touch was a left-footed lob that ran Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way and sent the ball to the far post.

FILE - The branding will be on display near the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar on March 31, 2022

⚽ World Cup 2022 in Qatar

The goal was Giroux’s 52nd in an international match, breaking the tie with Thierry Henry as France’s all-time top scorer. Mbappe doubled the lead at the end of a 74th-minute counterattack after receiving a feed from Dembele, who sliced ​​in from the right flank to find Mbappe with time and space on the left edge of the box. The Paris Saint-Germain star made good use of both, waiting for Szczesny’s signing before drilling a right foot high into the left corner.

The goal was Mbappe’s eighth in 11 World Cup appearances, second on France’s all-time list, but he wasn’t done yet, adding another goal from almost the same spot in added time, his 12th goal in his last ten games for club and country .

“Nobody knows how he can stop Mbappe in his current form,” said Poland coach Czesław Michniewicz, who predicted the French player would catch up if Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi step down.

“I think Mbappe will be the best player for many years,” he said.

Poland and star striker Robert Lewandowski were just seconds away from going goalless for the third time in four games when a handball penalty against Upamecano triggered a penalty deep in injury time. France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris stopped the first try but Lewandowski’s odd stuttering step sent him off his line early on. Lewandowski, given a second chance, left the stuttering stride behind and sent the ball into the back net on the final touch of the game.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-12-04/france-vs-poland-kylian-mbappe-world-cup-qatar World Cup: How far France goes might depend on Kylian Mbappe

Emma Bowman

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