Sports Review 2018: When Mbappé outshone even Messi
Teenage wizardry in the seven-goal wonder of Kazan as Argentina bowed out
Kylian Mbappé scores one of his two goals against Argentina in Kazan Photograph: EPA/Sergey Dolzhenko
World Cup: France 4 Argentina 3 - July 2nd, Kazan
There was far too much travelling to be done in Russia for every memorable game to be seen, but I missed what many consider to have been the tournament’s greatest goal due to a needlessly extended taxi ride.
Previewing South Korea’s win over Germany (who knew, eh?) took a little longer than expected and so two English colleagues headed into central Kazan to find a good spot in which to eat and watch Argentina against Nigeria. I hoped to join them in time for the kick-off and should have been there a few minutes after but my taxi driver inexplicably opted for the ring road and so the game was a quarter of an hour old by the time I arrived.
Lionel Messi, as it happens, had scored on 14 minutes and there was still a sense of excitement as I came through the door and started to scan the place. Moments later, I was being told about Ever Banega’s pass and Messi’s two astonishing touches before shooting. I’d seen it all a dozen times before the night was out but still felt slightly cheated of the magic that is watching a truly remarkable piece of skill unfold, unexpected, in the moment.
The good news was that Argentina’s win meant they and France would be next up in Kazan. That was quite a day; although as it turned out it belonged to Kylian Mbappé rather than Messi. The French teenager ripped Argentina apart in the way Messi has dismantled so many other teams down the years.
Angel Di Maria and Benjamin Pavard chipped in with goals too that were, as they say, worthy of winning any game, but it was Mbappé’s second that actually did win it, with the Parisian applying the finish to a five-man break that probably summed up the very best attributes of a team that would ultimately go on and lift the trophy in Moscow.
To be there to witness it all was wonderful; one of the days when you count your blessings in this job. There have been a few of them in 2018, to be fair, with the FAI Cup final somewhere up towards the top of the list if only for the Pat McEleney’s 73rd-minute winner; a close-range header of precisely the quality that Seán Gannon’s magnificent curling cross from the right deserved.
Ten days later came Ireland’s draw with Northern Ireland at the same stadium. A taxi driver could have taken me the length of the M50 and back again before leaving me at Lansdowne Road with 10 minutes to play and my colleagues would have struggled to come up with one incident of note I had missed. It proved too much for the FAI, with the association moving to replace Martin O’Neill within a matter of days.