As France broke forward for their second goal against Poland we saw Olivier Giroud, the newly crowned all-time goalscorer for the French men, running full speed at the defense before opting to pass. This was the correct decision, as there is probably not one Polish player who Giroud could outrun. It’s not his game, and it’s not a scary sight, and he’s nearing the end of a storied career for Les Bleus.
Enter Kylian Mbappe, arriving on the end of the play totally unmarked. They presented him the goal, and he still wowed us with a laser finish past Wojciech Szczęsny. Even as it appeared his look at goal was leaving him, he reacted incomprehensibly fast. It looked far easier than it actually was, and it’s just another moment in the ascension of Mbappe to football superstardom.
He had much more work to do for the second goal, with defenders bothering to defend him this time. No matter. He received the ball on the turn, and without hesitation fired another heater into the opposite side of the goal. With or without time to make a decision, Mbappe makes teams pay. He seized the 2018 World Cup, but now this is his France team. He’s the next great player at both club and international level whose gravitas stands as tall as the rest of his team.
Giroud’s record won’t stay safe for long, and he likely knows that. After all, he’s played a vital role in the France team that first gave Mbappe his stage on which to perform. He’s seen firsthand what Mbappe can do, and is certainly the best partner Mbappe has had for France. Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema returned to the fold briefly, and looked set to start in this tournament before having to withdraw due to injury. Antoine Griezmann and Giroud were more accustomed to playing alongside Mbappe, with N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba behind in midfield.
That balance was upset a bit in their ill-fated Euros campaign in 2021, but they’re thriving now despite having to make several changes. Due to injury France has had to adjust, but their success remains largely because of their superstar talisman.
In fact, Mbappe already has had a better career on the international stage than the players he’s likely to succeed in the GOAT conversation. He was named Young Player of the tournament when he helped France to win the 2018 World Cup, and is now level with Lionel Messi on career World Cup goals (9), one ahead of the other guy, at just 23 years old. No one has scored more World Cup goals at such a young age. There is no doubt that he is the next in line … if he isn’t already first.
Mbappe is by every definition France’s talisman. That has come with pressure, but he’s handled it beautifully as he looks set to take over yet another tournament.
Kylian Mbappe stats vs Poland
Shots: 5 (1st for France)
xG: 0.3 (2nd)
Shot creating actions: 9 (1st)
Passes attempted: 41 (9th)
Pass %: 81% (7th)
Progressive passes: 5 (1st)
Crosses: 5 (2nd)
Dribbles: 11 (1st)
Players dribbled past: 5 (1st)
— The Devil’s DNA (@TheDevilsDNA) December 5, 2022
Not only is he a remarkable individual talent, he’s someone who opens up opposition on and off the ball. Just his presence has helped to open up opposition at times, and his ability to attack space from any position in attack has been crucial for France’s advance to the quarterfinals. He’s either scored or assisted all but two of France’s nine goals at the tournament, combining lethally with Giroud thanks to his crossing ability. He’s also an exceptional off-ball creator, with the speed and intelligence to attack the opposition and break lines with runs or passes.
As talented as France are at every position they still lean on Mbappe, and it’s not surprising why. He stepped up in big moments at the last World Cup, and their biggest moments lay ahead this time around in Qatar.
France face England next, a team who despite their faults have gone far at two previous tournaments, and have the quality to do so again. They’ll face their biggest challenge when they line up against the French on Saturday, but they’re not likely to lay down. They haven’t conceded a goal since garbage time of their 6-2 opening win over Iran, and have scored 12 goals total.
France on the other hand haven’t yet kept a clean sheet at this tournament, but they haven’t needed to. After all, they’ve got Mbappe.
England’s most uncomfortable moments at the World Cup came when they lost possession in midfield and quickly had to recover against quick counterattacks. The United States got their best chances of the game by driving at England on the wings. Senegal found a good spell of opportunity with a similar strategy before England exploited the space they left behind.
Neither of those teams come close to what France and Mbappe can do. It’s the big test, one he’s already passed at a World Cup before, and could be yet another chapter in his ascent to superstardom. Even if France don’t win the World Cup, he is playing some of the best football of his career. What’s remarkable is how early it still is for him, and if keeps it up there will be no doubt about his place in the all-time conversation.