Teenager Kylian Mbappe scored two goals in four minutes to send a youthful France charging into the World Cup quarter-finals with a thrilling 4-3 win over Argentina on Saturday that sent Lionel Messi’s team home.
The 19-year-old forward’s electric pace caused Argentina problems all afternoon and his twin strikes helped France overturn a 2-1 deficit at the Kazan Arena as they set up a meeting with Uruguay or Portugal, who play later on Saturday.
Messi provided assists for two goals but the 31-year-old was otherwise subdued in the “false nine” role and his fourth, and possibly final, crack at winning the World Cup was destined to end in disappointment.
While Mbappe was the most influential player on the pitch, Argentina winger Angel Di Maria and France full back Benjamin Pavard fought out a private contest for the best goal of the match with two magnificent long-range strikes.
Di Maria’s goal canceled out Antoine Griezmann’s early penalty for France just before the break while Pavard’s in the 57th minute leveled the scores at 2-2 after Argentina had edged ahead through Gabriel Mercado.
Mbappe, the first teenager since Brazilian great Pele in the 1958 final to score two goals in one World Cup match, then took over to send Argentina slumping out of the finals before the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002.
“If I am a coach it is because I want to live this – a full stadium, highly-experienced teams,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
“Our team is much younger, but it’s there. We answered the call, we have a lot of character and it was not easy … but we kept fighting.”
Twice champions Argentina got a consolation through substitute striker Sergio Aguero in added time but they were simply unable to cope with Mbappe’s pace from his first surge towards the box after nine minutes.
Javier Mascherano brought him down and Griezmann crashed the subsequent free kick off the bar but France only had to wait a couple of minutes to open the scoring.
Mbappe set off on another driving run from well inside his own half and Marcos Rojo, well beaten for pace, bundled him to the deck inside the area.
Griezmann’s strike from the spot was not as clean as his free kick but goalkeeper Franco Armani went the wrong way and the Frenchman converted his second penalty of tournament.
Argentina looked shell-shocked at Mbappe’s early onslaught but Jorge Sampaoli’s side was full of big match experience and four minutes before the break they were level.
Di Maria received a pass from the left, took one touch to tee up the ball and hit the sweetest shot into the top-left corner of Hugo Lloris’s goal from 40 meters.
Three minutes into the second half and Argentina were ahead, Messi curling a shot hopefully towards Lloris and right back Mercado reacting instinctively to deflect the ball into the net.
The Argentina fans were in full voice but France soon restored parity when Pavard pounced on an over-cooked cross some 20 meters out and lashed it into the net on the half-volley.
Mbappe’s first goal came seven minutes later when he snared a loose ball, taking one touch to race past his marker and firing it home with his left foot through Armani’s dive.
His second came after 68 minutes at the end of a flowing French move with Olivier Giroud providing the subtlest of touches to lay the ball into Mbappe’s path and the teenager finishing right-footed with some elan.
“It’s flattering to be the second one after Pele, but let’s keep things in context,” Mbappe said. “Pele is another category, but it’s good to be among these people.”
Argentina continued to fight over the last 20 minutes but Aguero’s header from Messi’s cross in stoppage time was too little, too late.
“This is very painful, especially because the players have made a huge effort,” said Sampaoli, already under pressure after Argentina’s stuttering start to the tournament.
“It was a very difficult game but we have not achieved our goal here in Russia. I’m sad, I’m frustrated – I think that’s quite normal. I won’t decide my future today.”