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Kylian Mbappé thrills as defending champions France make stunning entrance in Qatar


Deep inside the beautiful Al Janoub stood Kylian Mbappé, the living breathing symbol of French masculinity in the 21st century.

Currently residing upon the vacated throne of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane, in that every French attack surges through his lightning swerves and feints, this footballing ninja provided the venue with much needed reputational refreshment.

Designed by the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, male figures of authority from Japan to Saudi Arabia have railed against Dame Hadid’s mathematical genius, with her Olympic masterpiece in Tokyo scrapped due to spiralling costs, while suggestions that the retractable roof in Al Wakrah resembles female genitalia received the full wrath of the Baghdadi born genius in 2012.

“It’s really embarrassing that they come up with nonsense like this,” said Hadid. “What are they saying? Everything with a hole in it is a vagina? That’s ridiculous.”

Instead of silencing the silliness, her scathing riposte eternalised the joke. Whatever this amphitheatre is meant to be, Mbappé’s presence on the grass moves it beyond cheap humour and into football’s sacred scrolls.

That picture of Diego Maradona from 1986, turning like a matador, primed to slice and dice six Belgium bulls, was replicated many times here by the highest paid footballer of all time. The 23-year-old, who threatens to transcend his sport, was constantly cloaked by gold shirts, offering a photographer’s dream shot to front Le Figaro, Le Monde and L’Equipe this morning.

Mbappé sent a fissure of excitement through the Janoub whenever his toe caressed the ball. Nathaniel Atkinson bravely took up the David role versus Goliath, crucially without a slingshot or pebbles, as soccer’s lethal weapon eased around the Heart of Midlothian full back with movement so rapid it made no sense to the naked eye.

As much the face of this tournament as he is of Paris Saint-Germain, two entities that belong to the emir of Qatar, a goal to take up where he left off in the 2018 World Cup final was repeatedly promised.

It came on 68 minutes with Australia’s twin towers, Kye Rowles and Harry Souttar of Stoke City fame, unable to prevent the delicacy of Ousmane Dembélé cross finding Mbappé’s soft header.

That made it 3-1. The fourth goal came within three minutes as Mbappé tortured Atkinson with otherworldly technique and speed to plant a perfect ball on Olivier Giroud’s temple. Each goal provided eternal moments in a stadium that definitely reassembles the flipped upside-down hull of Dhow vessels used by Qatari pearl divers.

On a storied day at the World Cup, as first Messi’s pursuit of Maradona was hung by a tread following Saudi Arabia’s dramatic win, the defending champions were initially rocked by the socially conscious Socceroos.

Craig Goodwin smashed the first goal to the roof of Hugo Lloris’s net, as Lucas Fernandez crumbled in a heap, clutching his knee when Mathew Leckie slalomed past him before squaring for Goodwin. That’s Melbourne City feeding Adelaide United as the Aussies went wild.

The goal was a shock, but a small one; France levelled inside 18 minutes when Mbappé’s curving assist was finished by Adrien Rabiot.

They snatched the lead when a high press exposed brave but foolhardy Australian play from the back. It all happened in an instant. Rabiot dispossessing Atkinson, allowing Mbappé to back heel for Rabiot on the overlap, who found Giroud for a tap in. Juve, PSG and Milan together in holy union.

Blur’s ‘Woo Hoo’ drowned out organic noise from a sizeable French crowd, but the Mexican Wave would not be denied by local cultural norms (open displays of emotion are frowned upon). The gigantic press box killed the rolling wave on its third lap but then, for no reason, the Viking Clap let everyone know that the World Cup had found its rhythm.

Turns out Mbappé is human. He smiled at Antoine Griezmann after shinning over from point-blank range: 2-1 France at the break and Didier Deschamps’s men hardly missed Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté, both snatched from these Arabian nights by winter wounds.

Real Madrid water carrier Aurélien Tchouaméni and the ageless Giroud will have to suffice.

Deschamps made an understandable complaint to the fourth official, Salima Mukansanga, when Jackson Irvine went through the back of Tchouaméni, a player arguably as valuable as Mbappé if the mission to become the first country to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962 is to be achieved.

Garang Kuol, an Australian superstar in waiting, entered the fray late on, the 18-year-old prodigy en route to Newcastle United shared a flank with the artist known to his Paris club mates as Donatello, the Ninja Turtle not the sculptor.



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