France’s Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring their third goal (REUTERS)
ROSTOV-ON-DON, July 1 (Reuters): At 19, Kylian Mbappe has already achieved something neither Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi have ever managed to do by scoring in a World Cup knockout game, triggering some big comparisons as Les Bleus beat Argentina 4-3 to reach the last eight on Saturday.
The French striker became the youngest player since Pele in 1958 to find the back of the net in the knockout phase of the tournament, while some pundits were quick to compare him with former Brazil forward Ronaldo.
“Said it before, but Kylian Mbappe will be the next global football superstar,” said former England international Gary Lineker.
His devilish pace and clinical finishing have certainly made him a player to be feared in Russia. Having improved steadily since his professional debut in 2015, Mbappe has already scored three goals in three starts at the World Cup.
The player himself was trying to keep a cool head, however.
“It’s flattering, but let’s put things into perspective. Pele belongs in another category,” he said.
“It’s good to score in such a game because there’s no better place than the World Cup to show your qualities.”
His captain, keeper Hugo Lloris, said he had done just that.
“I think he revealed himself to the entire world,” he said.
Mbappe scored twice within the space of four minutes in the second half, after winning the opening penalty at the end of a 70-metre sprint.
“I was wondering whether he was riding a scooter,” joked France midfielder Florian Thauvin, who is convinced his team mate will keep his feet on the ground after a world-class performance.
“I saw him after the game, he was chilled, as if nothing had happened,” said Thauvin.
The prodigy, however, will need to show even more in the quarter-finals as France take on Uruguay, a team highly unlikely to allow him as much space as Argentina did at the Kazan Arena.
Antoine Griezmann may be able to give him some advice before the game as two of Uruguay’s players — Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin — are his Atletico Madrid team mates.
“One thing is sure, Antoine’s advice will be precious,” said Thauvin. “He knows some of their players very well.
“Godin and Gimenez play together at Atletico, they know each other perfectly, they barely make mistakes. The only thing is that they can be a little bit slow, so we will need to find space at their back.”
“We must not expect that much from him in the quarter-finals, because Uruguay will be ready for him,” said Griezmann.
France, however, are confident.
“Tactically, the coach did a perfect job yesterday, so we know we will be fully prepared,” said Griezmann.