Mbappe masterclass takes France into last 16
The striker's twin strikes gave the defending champions a 2-1 victory, their second in Group D and put them in the second round
The star that was born in Russia is now bigger and brighter. Kylian Mbappe scored once but Denmark equalised. So, he scored again.
The first time, he moved towards the corner-flag for hugs and huddles. The second time, he jumped over the signages, splayed arms wide and let out a roar that was amplified by Stadium 974. This was his third goal in two games of the 2022 World Cup and defending champions France who, after the 2-1 win here on Saturday, are through to the round-of-16.
Mbappe scored first in the 61st minute, streaking across the pitch after nifty combination play with Theo Hernandez. Zooming into the penalty area, Mbappe found Hernandez and was at hand to stab home the pass the France right back made without looking and twisting like he had borrowed Shakira’s hips. The second goal came in the 86th from an Antoine Griezmann delivery which Mbappe met with a leap and then getting some leg on it.
Denmark had pulled level through Andreas Christensen in the 68th minute following a corner-kick that saw two headers and had some good chances, but after two games, they stay on one point. France have six.
There was a soporific goalless draw between USA and England and there was this, a first half between France and Denmark which stayed that way but was exciting and eventful.
By now France have been inured to players missing out due to injuries. Or they have learnt to live with. So, they began from where they left off against Australia. Twice they swept the ball from right to left, from Osumane Dembele to Mbappe with Adrien Rabiot linking France’s right-side forward to their left.
In the 20th minute Mbappe, who lingers in the half-space on the left as the rest of the team tracks back to defend, appeared like a streak of lightning and central defender Christensen had to take one for the team. The move then was set going down the middle by Raphael Varane who had teamed up with Griezmann, who was excellent, to find Mbappe. The resultant free-kick was played to Dembele whose delivery had Varane moving up to head but Kasper Schmeichel saved. As he did in the 30th minute when Jules Kounde's shot was cushioned by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on way to the Denmark goalkeeper.
That move was initiated by Hugo Lloris, the ball relayed to Mbappe via Giroud and Griezmann. The next by Dembele again picked out Giroud but France’s joint-highest scorer with Thierry Henry couldn’t get his 52nd goal.
Against a team they had lost to twice in the Nations League, France were dominating all areas of the pitch in a manner that belied their problems of players being unavailable due to injury. It needed roughhouse tactics from Denmark to contain them but they too gave indications of being able to hurt on the break. That came in the 35th minute when Jesper Lindstrom found Andreas Cornelius on the right. Aiming for the near post where Lloris was, the forward’s blast was just wide.
France replied with Giroud unable to get a header off an Mbappe delivery after Dembele found their No 10 with another build-up that moved swiftly from right to left. Giroud missed again in the 39th minute, unable to keep his shot on target after, at the risk of being repetitive, Dembele found the French forward.
But like in every game, Giroud created space for teammates in the front third. When Marcus Thurram, whose family could have two World Cup trophies should France remain the last team standing, replaced him, the fans lah-la-lahed Giroud’s name to the tune of ‘Hey Jude’.
France had Varane back in the mix, the Manchester United central defender replacing Ibrahima Konate, and Jules Kounde for Benjamin Pavard with brother Theo ensuring that the Hernandez family name stayed in the line-up after Lucas needed surgery for an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Denmark made four changes to the team that couldn’t get past Tunisia. Victor Nelsson came in for Simon Kjaer in the back three; Jesper Lindstrom for Andreas Skov Olsen in front; Mikkel Damsgaard took the place of Thomas Delaney who is injured and out of the tournament and Andreas Cornelius replaced Kasper Dolberg in what was a new-look front three set out by coach Kasper Hjulmand.