When it comes to comparing modern-day greats with legends of the past, the name of Kylian Mbappe tends to pop up more than most.
The prodigious number 10 has certainly hit the ground running at this FIFA World Cup, helping France to become the first country through to the last 16 as he glides between defenders seemingly at will, writing new pages in the history of French football while he does it.
Mbappe at the World Cup is a story that first began four years ago of course, when he followed in the footsteps of none other than Pele, most notably by becoming the first player under the age of 20 to score in the final.
Now 23, he has picked up in Qatar where he left off in Russia, with Australian and Danish defences trying and failing to shackle him.
Already this tournament, he has become the first player since Pele to score seven goals in World Cups before the age of 24 (with his birthday coming on 20 December, two days after the final). The records continue to tumble.
“I’ve said this before – you’d rather have Kylian in your team than playing against you,” centre back Dayot Upamecano told FIFA+. “We know how good he is, we need him and we’ll carry on needing him.”
Without yet more stand-put performances from him, Les Bleus might even have succumbed to the curse of the defending champions going out after just two matches at the World Cup.
At the Stadium 974 on Saturday evening, the Paris-born forward drew level in the French footballing pantheon with another legendary number 10 by the name of Zinedine Zidane, who scored 31 goals in 108 appearances. While he plays in a more advanced role, it has taken Mbappe just 61 caps to equal that feat.
His team-mates cannot speak highly enough of him, captain Hugo Lloris among them.
“Denmark refused to go away all night but we know that we can always count on Kylian,” the keeper said to FIFA+. “We’ve got other very good players of course but Kylian is in a league of his own and it’s up to us to find the right balance and the ideal way to get the best out of him.” With three goals in two games already in Qatar, Mbappe now has yet another record to his name – that of scoring at least three goals in consecutive World Cups as he is the first French player to do so.
His stats have already put him alongside Pele and Zidane, and other legends of the game are now either nervously looking over the shoulders or already doffing their cap as the Frenchman cruises past them. In terms of all-time scoring at the World Cup, Mbappe is now level on seven goals with Argentina’s Lionel Messi and ahead of Neymar from Brazil and Germany’s Lothar Matthaus (both on six).
It will be tough for him to haul in Miroslav Klose, who leads the way overall with 16 goals at the tournament, and even the French record-holder Just Fontaine seems out of reach on 13.
Even so, the PSG attacker is now second only to the legend from Stade de Reims as the country’s second-highest scorer in the competition.
How far can Les Bleus go in Qatar? Only time will tell, but as the tournament wears on, the squad already looks closely knit and they know that they have that spark up front that can turn a match on its head even when they are not playing at their best.
“He’s a player who can make a difference – that’s the talent that he has,” said Raphael Varane, with Lloris adding: “Everyone’s playing their part but it’s great for him that he’s kicked off the tournament so well – we’ll need Kylian to be on top form if we’re going to go deep.”
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