Why I believe France are the team to beat at the World Cup in Qatar
Mbappe’s poised to usurp Ronaldo and Messi and help France to retain World Cup crown
I won’tbe at all surprised if Kylian Mbappe leaves the World Cup with the title of ‘Best Player in the World.’
Cristiano Ronaldo is 37, Lionel Messi is 35; how much longer can these giants of football entertain us so lavishly?
This glorious duo have to pass on the baton sometime soon.
And with super-striker Erling Haaland not going to the World Cup, Mbappe, on the evidence of his stunning performance for France against Austria on Thursday, is in pole position to become ‘the man’.
Take it from me, Mbappe’s set of skills, his pace, his physical power and close control of the ball, make him an absolute nightmare for any defender to mark.
You can’t stand off him, he’ll drop deep to pick up the ball and then run past you, as he did to score the first French goal against Austria.
You can’t go touch-tight, he’ll just spin you and be gone – and you are not catching Mbappe.
All that’s left is to hope that you can, somehow, get a challenge in, during those first two yards, when he has not got up to full speed.
Robbie Fowler was one player I came up against that was like the Frenchman, who will only turn 24 a couple of days after the World Cup final.
The Scouser wasn’t as fast as Mbappe, of course, but you knew he was always willing to shoot once the ball was at his feet – and quite a few of those shots found the top corner of the net if you didn’t close Robbie down.
Mbappe is a daunting prospect for every defender at the World Cup. Him, alone, staying fit means that France have a great chance of retaining the World Cup.
Of course, he’s not a one-man band either.
Considering that Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema will be his fellow French strikers, with Olivier Giroud as back-up, the holders go into the competition in great shape.
Remember, too, international tournaments are not always won by the best team taking part.
Think of Holland and Brazil at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups.
Think of England at both Euro 96 and last year again. The Three Lions looked so good for so long in each competition, but they didn’t get the job done.
In fact, last year’s Euros was a classic example of how you win a finals – you just ‘click’.
The Italian team that played England last Friday night had only four of the starters from the Euro final in June 2021.
In just 15 months, retirements and injuries have robbed Roberto Mancini of more than half of his winning team.
But for those four weeks last year across Europe, the Italians were imperious.
You just knew they had come together and something special, that winning mentality, had been forged by Mancini, Gianluca Vialli and the backroom group.
Yet, in November of last year, and March of this, they managed to bungle their possible passport to the World Cup.
First, failing to beat Switzerland, while missing a penalty, to go through automatically, before losing to North Macedonia in a home play-off.
Italy won’t be in Qatar, but they had got it all right for the few weeks that mattered in the Euros – and I have a feeling that the French, with Mbappe aboard, are timing their run right.
Manager Didier Deschamps has been in charge since 2014 and he led France to the Euro final on home soil in 2016 and won the World Cup in Russia two years later.
He knows how to pull a group together and will want to quit the job on a high with Zinedine Zidane eyeing up taking over next year.
Of course, neither Messi nor Ronaldo will part with the crown that they have contested for so long in any way easily.
Argentina come into the competition with a strong recent record and enough good players to build a winning team around the genius Messi.
So, too, Portugal, when you think of all the class players they have at Manchester City, at Wolves, at Benfica and Porto.
And then there are Bruno Fernandes and the man himself at Manchester United.
Portugal are another team who have shown they can put it together for a few weeks.
Spectacularly so, in France in 2016, for instance, even if the hosts really ought to have won the final when stage-fright seemed to hit them hard on the big night at the Stade de France.
These two wonderful players must surely know this is the end of the international line for both of them.
We won’t see them in their national colours again.
They will not cede to Mbappe lightly, but given the way he played on Thursday, they might just have to.
You can see Mbappe in action again tonight, when France complete their Nations League programme against Denmark in Copenhagen.
Or, maybe, you won’t. Because the countries clash again in their World Cup group in six weeks’ time.
Will Deschamps want to give the Danish defenders a chance to learn how to, somehow, cope with the irrepressible Mbappe?
Yet, maybe, he’ll play the PSG man to ensure the Danish back-line doesn’t sleep a wink between tonight’s game and the one in Qatar.
They will have their work cut out, that’s for sure.
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