Kylian Mbappé helps lift France at the World Cup with joyful play


DOHA, Qatar — Goal no. 1, Yekaterinburg, Russia, June 21, 2018, France 1, Peru 0: It begins with a whoosh and a nudge…

A great-big blur blew in way over near the Europe-Asia line that day east of the Ural Mountains, and while everyone already knew Kylian Mbappé a bit by name and game and reputation, who knew how far into the pantheon of the imagination he would venture.

Everyone knew this statuesque blur from the northeast suburbs of Paris had just claimed his first World Cup goal at age 19 years, 183 days and a 34th minute of a goalless match, right after French pillar Olivier Giroud chopped a ball off a Peruvian leg and skyward over goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and back down towards the ground, where Mbappé put it and nudged it in.

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Mbappé’s momentum pushed him into the back netting — how fitting — and he ran out and ran left and hugged and greeted teammates and celebrated with his trademark: arms folded, fingers in armpits, thumbs up — an emulation of his kid brother during what must have been quite some tussles in the FIFA video game.

He oozed a cascading joy with his aura and his smile among smiles and his energy, suggesting he might soar to join those athletes people most wish to watch, that rarefied tier with Stephen Curry and Simone Biles and Patrick Mahomes and Sabrina Ionescu and Roger Federer, athletes whose repertoires seem to transmit a form of joy.

Goal no. 2, Kazan, Russia, June 30, 2018, France 4, Argentina 3: He whisks left like water…

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His World Cup star intensified in this constellation of a match in the box in the 64th minute when he slid left past Enzo Perez so blurrily that the defense decomposed and Federico Fazio scrambled back, but then Mbappé shipped one under goalkeeper Franco Armani’s left arm, then ran, then skidded on his knees, arms folded, delight amok and …

Goal no. 3, four minutes after Goal No. 2: He shakes the stadium and blasts from the right…

By then, his mere running made the giant premises seem to jiggle. Giroud dribbled just ahead of him until Mbappé charged from the right as if they were cavalry on a prairie and took Giroud’s pass and blasted one across to the left and to the netting.

It began to grow clear how this French son of a Cameroonian coach and Algerian former handball player might draw phone calls three years later from French President Emmanuel Macron trying to persuade him to stay at Paris Saint-Germain rather than zip to regal Real Madrid, telling him: “You have an opportunity to write history here. Everybody loves you,” as Mbappe told Sports Illustrated.

Goal no. 4, Moscow, July 15, 2018, France 4, Croatia 2, World Cup final: Whoa…

“This is the new France,” Mbappé would say to SI come 2022 and add: “It’s for that that I don’t give up on the national team [after the racism he had endured]. Because it is a message to the young generation to say, ‘We are stronger than that.’ “

He is, of course, still the younger generation at 23, but when passing such an invaluable message, it’s helpful in this world to be able to operate atop the box, to bolt gently right as a defender such as Croatia’s Domagoj Vida follows, then to blow it back by Vida’s left for a crackling 30-yard goal for a 4-1 lead in the 65th minute, all of which earned a hashtag from the only other man to score as a teenager in a World Cup final.

“If Kylian keeps equaling my records,” Pele tweeted“I may have to dust my boots off again.”

Goal no. 5, Wakrah, Qatar, Nov. 22, 2022, France 4, Australia 1: Up goes his head above traffic and…

“I thought the kid actually did really well,” Australia Manager Graham Arnold said, but he spoke of Nathaniel Atkinson, a 23-year-old from Tasmania who had to open the 2022 World Cup by marking Mbappé, as if he had done something bad in a previous life. In the 68th minute, with the score already 3-1 and Mbappé already crucial in previous goal creation — he has two assists in the current World Cup as if his five goals weren’t enough — Mbappé jutted his way out from amid two defenders in the box just as Ousmane Dembélé’s cross arrived, and Mbappé did not redirect it with his head so much as massage it gently off its previous angle and into the top left.

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For the harrowing moments when ball and Mbappé would meet, Arnold and staff had prescribed adding Mathew Leckie and Jackson Irvine to Atkinson in a defensive trio, but then…

“How do you stop someone so quickly like that?” Arnold said.

So while Atkinson told reporters of “the physicality of the guy” and said, “Give him one step, he’s gone,” he also forged an admirable turn of bluntness: “There’s a reason why he’s earning $200 million and I am where I am .”

Atkinson, who plays for Heart of Midlothian in Scotland, is valued around $1 million, say Australian media.

Goal no. 6, Doha, Qatar, Nov. 26, 2022, France 2, Denmark 1: It’s a one-time bang and…

“He can change a match in just a moment,” eternal France manager Didier Deschamps said, “and he’s always playing with such joy, and we all want to share those smiles with him,” such as the one in the 61st minute after he and Lucas Hernandez made a two-man charge on the left. Hernandez shipped it to Mbappé, and Mbappé slid it low to Hernandez nearing the byline, and Hernandez backcrossed it, and Mbappé blasted it.

Goal no. 7, 25 minutes after Goal No. 6

“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” Mbappé said here. “The only thing I dream is this. I came here to win the World Cup. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball or Golden Boot. If I win [those], of course I’m going to be happy, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to win, and I’m here to help the France national team.”

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To help it this time, he appeared like a mighty mirage near the goal to take a long chip from Antoine Griezmann and direct it in with his thigh, then to run a long way and leap over a little wall behind the goal and exult in a way that might make others wish to exult even involuntarily.

Vincent Kompany, the retired Belgium and Manchester City player and current Burnley manager, saw again the volume of possibilities and the volume of aura and said on the BBC, “There’s very few players who give you that feeling, I would say.”

Goal no. 8, Doha, Dec. 4, 2022, France 3, Poland 1: Two defenders arrive frantically but, oh…

In the 74th minute, with France ahead 1-0 after Mbappé assisted on Giroud’s goal, Dembélé’s keen ball found Mbappé in on the top left side of the box with good space, and then he moved in some, but then came the two defenders, and just as they arrived he ripped the thing into the upper left roof over diving goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

“That was a vicious finish,” Rob Smyth of the Guardian wrote as it happened.

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“No coach knows the recipe to stop Mbappé in the form he’s in right now,” Poland Coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said afterwards. “He’s a fantastic player, and he harmed us today.”

Goal no. 9, 16 minutes after Goal No. 8: :

“But I root for him,” Michniewicz said.

That’s the thing. Even the stricken root. For with this ninth World Cup goal in a world where kids dream of one, more than halfway to Miroslav Klose’s World Cup record 16, Mbappé operated from almost the same spot as the previous one but drilled a curler through a mild human forest and up into the upper right corner, as if his repertoire required also that possibility.

He ran over onto the left edge and folded his arms like ritual and smiled before a world now just about rapt, a world that knows how he seems to wear his fame with joy, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, who has worn it with conceit, or Lionel Messi, who hardly has worn it at all.

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By Wednesday, Kyle Walker, the England defender tasked with Mbappé for the too-big-to-comprehend quarterfinal Saturday, appeared at a news conference at the English training. He noted that “all the questions are about him” — you know, him — and he went on to compliment Giroud and Dembélé and Griezmann, then said of Mbappé: “Okay, we take our hat off to him. He’s a great player. But for me, all the questions probably shouldn’t be about him. We should appreciate that we’re seeing a great footballer, but there are other players as well.”

He had an ironclad point, but forgive us all: After a nudge, a whisk, a cavalry charge, a whoa, a deft header, a one-timer, a thigh shot, a vicious finish and a wow, just look, too, at all that joy.

World Cup in Qatar

The latest: Brazil, a five-time World Cup champion, was eliminated in the quarterfinals Friday against Croatia. Croatia, which finished second at the 2018 World Cup, will face the Netherlands or Argentina on Tuesday. Follow our live coverage for the latest news, analysis and highlights.

USMNT: The US men’s national team fell to the Netherlands, 3-1, on Saturday in the opening match of the round of 16. The United States has not won a World Cup knockout match since 2002, when it beat regional rival Mexico in the round of 16 in South Korea.

Knock out round schedule: A World Cup group stage filled with shocking upsets and dramatic turnarounds will now give way to a knockout round that promises more surprises.

Today’s WorldView: The 2022 World Cup has faced a cascade of controversies since Qatar won the right to host it more than a decade ago. Sometimes drowned out in the din: Concern over the tournament’s climate impact. Perhaps anticipating blowback, Qatar laid out an ambitious pledge: to hold the first carbon-neutral World Cup.

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