They will need Kylian Mbappé to continue his extraordinary display.
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On another night of outrageous soccer from the top young player in the world, Mbappé set up the first goal before scoring two of high quality as France rolled past Poland, 3-1, to book a quarterfinal against England on Saturday.
“There’s no recipe. No coach knows the recipe to stop Mbappé in the form he’s in right now,” Polish Coach Czesław Michniewicz said. “He’s a fantastic player, and he hurt us today. But I root for him. I’m cheering for him because he’s a real star. I’m talking about [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Robert] Lewandowski. Someone is going to take over, and I think Mbappé will be the player who will be the best one for many years.”
Mbappé, 23, surged to the front of the Golden Boot race with his fifth goal in four matches — four years after he tallied four times and became the youngest scorer in a World Cup final since Pelé in 1958.
“We know about Kylian. We’ve seen him. He speaks on the pitch,” French Coach Didier Deschamps said, adding, incredibly, “He didn’t have his best match.”
Deschamps went on to say: “He can change a match in just a moment. He is always playing with such joy, and we all want to share those smiles with him. France needed a great Kylian Mbappé tonight, and we got one.”
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Mbappé assisted on Olivier Giroud’s goal in the 44th minute and scored in the 74th and in stoppage time before Lewandowski converted a penalty kick on the final act of the night.
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Asked about the prospects of winning the MVP award, known as the Golden Ball, Mbappé said, “The only objective for me is to win the World Cup.”
“Now to win the next game, the quarterfinal, is the most important thing, and that’s what I dream of,” he said. “The only thing I dream is this. I came to win this World Cup. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Boot or Golden Ball. If I win it, of course, I’m going to be happy. But I’m here to win, and I’m here to help the French national team.”
Mbappé has been the star of multiple matches but previously had not spoken to reporters afterwards. He apologized Sunday.
“I just needed to focus on the tournament and on my football, and when I want to concentrate on something, that’s the way I function,” he said. The French Football Federation was facing FIFA fines for Mbappé’s media blackout. He offered to pay the penalty. Ultimately, you agreed to talk.
“This is the competition of my dreams, and I’m delighted to be here,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for this tournament all throughout the season, physically and mentally. I wanted to be ready for this tournament, and I am, and so far things are going well. But we’re a long way from the ultimate objective.”
Poor Poland. In its final two matches, it encountered Messi (Argentina) and Mbappé, both defeats.
Making its first appearance in the round of 16 since 1986, Poland featured one of the world’s great strikers, Lewandowski, and magnificent goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who stopped two penalty kicks in the group stage.
The Poles were unfazed by their enormous task. They were both disciplined and daring, unwilling to allow France to run over them.
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Les Bleus was up to old tricks in the first half. Mbappé cut back so sharply in the box, Matty Cash’s ankles might have snapped. Ousmane Dembélé’s whipped cross slithered just beyond Giroud’s sliding bid in the six-yard box.
A wonderful opportunity developed for Poland in the 38th minute, a flurry of shots that had France scrambling. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris used his knee to stop Piotr Zieliński’s blast from 12 yards, Theo Hernandez blocked Zieliński’s follow-up, and Raphael Varane cleared a shot off the goal line.
Six minutes later, France went ahead. Poland thought it was properly aligned as France probed. In a flash, the goal came. Giroud straddled the top of the box, gaining inside position on Jakub Kiwior and springing into space just as Mbappé released a well-weighted entry pass.
Snapping off an angled 12-yarder to the far corner, Giroud became France’s all-time scoring leader with 52 goals, one ahead of Thierry Henry.
“We were lucky to be leading at halftime,” Deschamps said. “We gave Poland too many opportunities.”
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France put its firm grip on the second half. A Polish threat extinguished in the box, Antoine Griezmann, a forward, blasted the ball to midfield. The counterattack was on.
As Dembélé drew attention on the right, Mbappé revved his engines and sailed undetected on the left. Poland’s inattention was about to be punished.
Dembélé supplied the ball. Mbappé picked his spot, and when Szczesny leaned ever so slightly to the far side, the Frenchman ripped a 17-yard shot into the top near corner.
In stoppage time, Mbappé seized on a pocket of space, pulled the ball back from a defender and unleashed a cannon shot to the far upper corner for his 16th goal in the past 14 international matches and 33rd in 63 French appearances.
“We are delighted,” Mbappé said.
No doubt, the remaining World Cup field is on alert.
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The latest: On another night of outrageous soccer from the top young player in the world, Kylian Mbappé set up the first goal before scoring two of high quality as France rolled past Poland, 3-1, to book a quarterfinal against England on Saturday.
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.
perspective: “The incremental progress was clear, but more than that, the players performed in a matter that indicates they are on a path to immense growth. There is a cohesion and energy about the United States that should inspire belief.” Read Jerry Brewer on the US men’s national team’s future.