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Kylian Mbappe emerges on world stage as Lionel Messi departs

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By BBC Online
02nd-Jul-2018       
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When Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe embraced at the end of a breathless World Cup classic, it was a striking moment that seemed to confirm the passing of greatness from one player to the next.
Everyone present at the electrified Kazan Arena on Saturday left the stadium knowing they had witnessed a special match, a knockout game for the ages. And one player in particular set the spine tingling.
Mbappe is only 19 years old but he scored two goals and ran with blistering pace from his own half to win a penalty for the opener in France's 4-3 victory over Argentina, a win that moves Didier Deschamps' talented side into the quarter-finals.
It was a spell-binding performance that defined a match whose outcome signals France's real potential to go all the way in Russia and claim their second World Cup trophy.
Mbappe was not even born when France won this competition on home soil in 1998.
Neatly, Michael Owen's brilliant slalom through the Argentina defence at that tournament, which was so like Mbappe's here for the opener in Kazan, came exactly 20 years ago - on 30 June 1998.
Mbappe, who was born on 20 December 1998, is technically still on loan at Paris St-Germain from Monaco but is expected to join the French champions for 180m euros (£165.7m) as the second most expensive player of all time. Only the 200m euros (£177m) PSG paid for Brazil forward Neymar in 2017 surpasses that fee.
It is not just searing pace Mbappe is blessed with but sublime skill, quick thinking, two clever feet, a cool head, bravery, belief and a brutal eye for goal. His two finishes were predatory, low and powerful.
"It was an incredible performance from a centre forward who has the lot: blistering pace, goals, touch and technique," said former England captain Alan Shearer, speaking on Match of the Day.
"At 19, to put in a performance like that, with millions watching and Messi at the other end, it was simply brilliant." Mbappe, from the suburbs of Paris, only made his international debut last year. His rise to the top has been dizzying since he burst on to the scene in the 2016-17 season, scoring 26 goals in 44 games as Monaco reached the Champions League semi-finals and won Ligue 1.
His two goals here utterly wiped out Argentina's gathering momentum and announced his supreme talent to the world.
Not since 1958, when the legendary Brazilian Pele, then 17, found the net twice against Sweden in the final, has a teenager scored twice in a World Cup game.
"I'm very happy, and it's flattering to be compared to a great player like Pele but he's in another category," Mbappe said.
"Still, it's great to join the list of players that have achieved such feats."
This was a match that inflicted more agony on Messi, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner who seems destined never to shine as only he can on the biggest stage of all.
Right after the final whistle, Messi did not look back as he and Mbappe came together and parted, but the young French striker did steal a brief final glance behind him.
He would have seen the hunched back of Argentina's iconic number 10, broken by the weight of a whole nation's expectation. Messi dreamed of matching those demands but was once again unable to conjure his masterful best when it counted most.
He provided two assists - one inadvertently as his shot was deflected in by Gabriel Mercado when Argentina took the lead, the other a sublime cross that found Sergio Aguero in the 93rd minute.
That was too little, too late, a reminder of what might have been at the end of another largely peripheral display at this World Cup.

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