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PSG duo eclipse Messi and Ronaldo on unforgettable day

Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé both produced performances to remember.

Kylian Mbappe celebrates a goal.
Kylian Mbappe celebrates a goal.
Image: Hahn Lionel/ABACA

IF YOU HAD discovered beforehand that today’s World Cup matches were to be dominated by individual brilliance, the assumption would be that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were set to step up to the plate.

Yet instead, it was Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé who respectively inspired Uruguay and France to victory over Portugal and Argentina.

Ronaldo and Messi, hampered by team-mates less gifted than the players they are accustomed to operating alongside at Barcelona and Real Madrid, struggled to impose themselves on today’s games (even though Messi technically registered two assists).

On the other hand, the Mbappe performance was particularly impressive. At 19, it is scary to think how good he could become, and many commentators were tempted to portray the game as a passing of the torch from one superstar to the next.

Of course, such comparisons are premature, as are the parallels with another superstar — Pele at the 1958 World Cup. One undeniable fact, however, is that the France youngster today became the first teenager to score twice in one match in the competition since the brilliant Brazilian did so in the final against Sweden 60 years ago.

And the way Mbappe consistently tormented the Argentine defence was still a joy for all neutrals and French fans to behold.

The PSG striker won the penalty from which the opening goal was scored. He also proved the inspiration behind a second-half triumph. With the match finely balanced at 2-2, Mbappe scored two brilliant goals in four minutes to set France on course for a quarter-final place.

It continues a superb season for the youngster, who has scored 24 goals in 53 appearances in all competitions, having been key to PSG securing a domestic treble. In his short career, he has also already helped Monaco earn a first Ligue 1 title in 17 years, before a €180 million transfer made him the second most expensive player ever.

From early on, it was clear Mbappe was a special talent. Age 11, he had a trial at Chelsea, with Real Madrid and Valencia also interested in the player, before Monaco won the race for his signature, with the Paris-born prodigy subsequently becoming their youngest first-team player ever at 16 and breaking Thierry Henry’s record in the process.

Yet to suggest today was all about Mbappe would be unfair to another outstanding PSG forward. In a such a tight and scrappy game, Cavani lit up the Uruguay-Portugal clash with two majestic moments.

The first goal saw him acrobatically head an inch-perfect Luis Suarez cross into the net, while his second was equally clinical, a curled first-time finish from the edge of the area.

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In addition, unlike many top players, Cavani’s work ethic was similarly impressive compared with his individual quality, as he was part of a stubborn Uruguayan defensive effort that gave up few clear-cut chances against the Euro 2016 champions.

It was sad to see the 31-year-old hobble off the field 20 minutes from time, and Uruguay’s hopes of progressing further in the competition could depend on his fitness.

But regardless of what happens next, reaching the quarter-finals was a remarkable achievement for the South American side, who with around 3.4 million inhabitants, have a population comparable to the Republic of Ireland.

Talk of Óscar Tabárez’s team often revolves around Luis Suarez, but Cavani — who grew up idolising legendary Argentina striker Gabriel Batistuta — is arguably equally integral to their squad. He was the top scorer in the CONMEBOL qualifying round with 10 goals, and has scored 45 for his country in total (only Suarez has scored more in the history of Uruguayan football).

Despite the arrival of Neymar and Mbappe, the Ligue 1 Player of the Year for the 2016–17 season continues to remain a vital presence in the PSG team, with an incredible 43 goals in 54 appearances this season.

What also helped Mbappe and Cavani, of course, is that they had better players around them than either Ronaldo or Messi.

Yet that should not take anything away from their individual achievements — the kind of brilliance they displayed is one of the main reasons why the World Cup, along with the Olympics, is the most watched sporting event on the planet.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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