Death, Taxes and Kylian Mbappé at World Cups.
Far from Al Bayt, where Gareth Southgate’s team face Senegal, another Englishman featured prominently in Qatar on Sunday night. Matty Cash orbited Mbappé's sun for the entirety of this last-16 tie, making it Slough town’s greatest night on the global stage.
Cash has Polish grandparents on his mother’s side, with a passport only collected from the Warsaw office in October 2021.
The Aston Villa right-back could never imagine these circumstances, but every time Mbappé sought to burn up the Al Thumama turf, there he was. Most defenders fail miserably against the Paris Saint-Germain winger, many are protected by at least one other player, rare do they hold their own like Cash did for so long.
And still, the 23-year-old was devastating down the home straight, curling in a pair of magnificent goals to set up a potentially seismic quarter-final in the desert outside Al Khor next Saturday.
Cash brought everything he has gleaned from three seasons in the Premier League, denying Mbappé four clean looks into the whites of Wojciech Szczęsny’s eyes in the opening 45 minutes alone. The concentration levels required to keep tabs on this tango and Cash affair was draining in itself.
How does a boy from Thames Valley end up policing football’s unplayable wonder? Ryszard Tomaszewski, Cash’s maternal grandfather, is from Stanislawow, which is now part of Ukraine. He reached the UK via two horrific experiences, at the hands of the Nazis and Stalin’s Red Army, with stints in a Siberian work camp before refugee existences in Iran, India and Tanganyika led him to Liverpool in 1948.
The 25-year-old looks comfortable at this level, only beaten twice in the opening 10 minutes by Mbappé's Olympic sprinter pace with both low deliveries pushed away for corners.
France were sluggish in the first half, but Mbappé was his usual self, which forced Cash to produce the game of his life. On 13 minutes, the other French terror, Ousmane Dembele, cut off the right and squared for Mbappé, in a central position with Cash isolated. The Villa defender walked out with possession.
Dembele looked likelier to score, such was Cash’s poise in the face of Mbappé efforts to skin him. Three times Tomaszewski’s grandson held firm, the last tackle leading directly to Robert Lewandowski unleashing a left-footer up the other end that sailed wide.
23rd minute: Mbappé versus Cash. France on the break, nobody to help and the man who is transcending the sport could only admire how Cash unburdened him like he was one of those League Two wingers Cash faced while playing for Dagenham and Redbridge in the 2015/16 season.
The world champions needed another angle. Antonie Griezmann duly obliged, feeding Dembele whose cross needed to be tapped home by Oliver Giroud at the far post. No joy.
A full-back’s life is unforgiving. One minute you are top of the heap, a-number-one, the next Kylian Mbappé shifts on the balls of his feet, feinting to shoot with his right, watching Cash slide past before the leading candidate for the Ballon d’Or fired into the side-netting, thanks to Szczęsny’s trailing body part.
The Poles were competitive for 70-odd minutes, as opposed to their insipid loss to Messi’s Argentina last Wednesday, but Piotr Zielinski’s golden chance to score at a World Cup only comes along once a century. Certainly for a country like Poland. Lewandowski played the role of ageing master, finding the Napoli midfielder who shot straight at Hugo Lloris. The rebound was struck poorly and Raphaël Varane cleared a third attempt by Kaminski.
Turns out, that was the game. Cash kept snuffing out arcing Dembele balls for Mbappé but the electric eel would not be denied. A minute before half-time his snappy assist allowed Giroud to spin and hook the ball beyond the spread-eagled Szczęsny.
Mbappé tried to show for a return pass but Cash was hanging out of him. The 40,989 attendance swooned as Giroud celebrated a French record 52 international goals, one clear of Thierry Henry.
After being crushed under Szczęsny and Varane, two huge men, Cash will remember the pain of this night as much as he lived with Mbappé. Moments later he blatantly fouled Mbappé, by grabbing those swerving hip with both hands, in an action Ecuador referee Jesús Valenzuela deemed acceptable, much to the disgust of France manager Didier Deschamps.
The second French goal, when it came, had nothing to do with anyone else on the pitch. Just Mbappé. Not Griezmann, Giroud, nor Dembele, who shifted possession to the left side of the Polish box. Not the four defenders rooted to the grass when he whipped the leather to the top corner from what seemed an impossible angle.
Giroud broke a record and Matty Cash was outstanding, but the only statistic that matters is 3-0 to France. The third goal brings Mbappé to nine across two World Cups. Nobody is to blame for his second of the night as Szczęsny, who remains a strong candidate for goalkeeper of the tournament, even got fingers to an unstoppable, illogically powerful effort.
Lewandowski avoided a humiliating penalty miss in injury time, sending Lloris the wrong way at the second time of asking after the Tottenham goalkeeper fell for the stutter-step and moved off his goal line.
This was a minor detail. Mbappé eclipsed all, stalling on 33 goals from 63 caps. Giroud’s new record should eventually fall. As should Just Fontaine’s record 13 French goals at Sweden ‘58. Miroslav Klose’s 16 goals over four tournaments should also be reeled in. Not in Qatar but eventually, because Kylian Mbappé is coming for everyone.