French teenager Kylian Mbappe announced himself on the World Cup stage but it was a wonder strike from a teammate that kick-started an incredible comeback win against Argentina.
France recorded a 4-3 win over Argentina in a topsy-turvy last-16 clash to open the knockout stages at the World Cup.
Teenager Mbappe was in devastating form in the heavyweight clash in Kazan, scoring two second-half goals to bring Argentina’s tumultuous campaign in Russia to an end.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward’s surging 70-yard burst also led to the opener after 13 minutes, Antoine Griezmann slotting home from the penalty spot after Mbappe had been hauled down by Marcos Rojo.
Yet Argentina turned the game around to go ahead, Angel Di Maria’s stunning long-range strike before the break followed by Gabriel Mercado’s fortuitous effort early in the second half.
However, Benjamin Pavard matched Di Maria’s effort – drilling in one of the goals of the tournament for a deserved equaliser in the 57th minute.
“I am still moved,” Pavard told reporters at the Kazan Arena. “I am happy with my goal, and also for the team. It gave us a whiff [of a chance].
“I like practicing volleys. I’m happy for myself, the collective and all the French people. It’s a very important victory against a very good team.
“After the match, I ran around, I did not know what to do. My girlfriend was there and was crying, I called my parents and my agent.
“It’s a nice moment for me and for those who have always believed in me. I thank my teammates for the trust they give me.”
Following Pavard’s goal it was Mbappe who took centre stage, securing Didier Deschamps’ side a place in the quarter-finals.
Messi – who will face questions over his international future in the aftermath of the defeat – did set up a late header for Sergio Aguero but it was not enough to save Argentina, with the beaten finalists from 2014 slipping out of this year’s tournament.
France, who made six changes from the side that drew 0-0 with Denmark last time out, were almost ahead after nine minutes, but Griezmann’s wonderful 25-yard free-kick crashed back off Franco Armani’s crossbar.
The Atletico Madrid striker did not have to wait long to open the scoring, though – largely thanks to the scintillating pace of Mbappe.
After picking the ball up deep inside his own half, he set off on a sparkling run that was only halted when Rojo clumsily hauled him down just inside the area.
Griezmann stepped up and coolly converted from the spot, sending the ball low to Armani’s right for his second goal – both penalties – at the World Cup.
Argentina had scarcely offered anything in the way of an attacking threat during a tepid first half, yet drew level four minutes before the interval when Di Maria unleashed from distance with his left foot to beat Hugo Lloris.
Boosted by the equaliser, Jorge Sampaoli’s team started the second period brightly and were duly rewarded with a second goal three minutes after the restart.
Ever Banega’s free-kick was headed out towards Messi and the Barcelona star’s whipped effort towards goal was diverted past a helpless Lloris by Mercado, who had stuck out his foot in an apparent attempt to control the ball.
Their lead lasted just nine minutes, though, as France pulled level with a goal of the highest quality.
Lucas Hernandez’s cross from the left found his full-back partner Pavard, who sliced across his half-volley from outside the area, sending it spinning into Armani’s top-right corner.
Mbappe put France ahead again in the 64th minute when he picked up a loose ball in the area, found a yard of space and fired in low past Armani, who was slow getting down. His second – a first-time finish – followed just four minutes later, finally putting clear daylight between the teams.
Aguero set up a tense finale by nodding home in the third minute of stoppage time, but it was not enough to prevent Argentina – and Messi – from crashing out.
France now faces Uruguay in the quarter-finals after the South Americans knocked Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal out with a 2-1 win.