By Clement Nwankpa Jr, St. Petersburg, Russia
France beat Argentina 4-3 in the second round with kid sensation Kylian Mbappe showing Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo how to do it.
Mbappe scored a brace with Antoine Griezman and Benjamin Pavard also on target for France. The 19 year old won a penalty that was converted by Griezmann in the 13th minute, Pavard leveled up scores in the 56th minute before Mbappe scored in the 64th and 68th minutes to put France on the driver’s seat.
Angel Di Maria fought back for Argentina in the 41st minute, Gabriel Mercado gave them a 2-1 lead in the 48th minute while Sergio Aguero grabbed the third in additional time.
If Nigeria had Mbappe, the Super Eagles would have been the team engaging France in that second round tie.
On the contrary, if France had Ighalo in attack, they wouldn’t have beaten Argentina.
The young Mbappe made the difference on the day and was fittingly awarded the man of the match award.
It will be recalled that before Argentina’s Marcos Rojo struck in the 84th minute against Nigeria, Ighalo had two glorious chances to put the game beyond the Albiceleste.
At that point, they were all over the place and were there for the taking. Ahmed Musa’s pace and directness posed a lot of problems for them creating openings for Ighalo. Eagles needed to key into that momentum and finish off Argentina. The opportunities did come but fell for Ighalo, who frittered them away.
If Ighalo had taken just one of those chances, the team’s fortunes would have been much different. He was well aware of the magnitude of those misses hence his apologies to teeming Nigerian football faithful afterwards.
Like Nigeria, France found openings in the leaky Argentine defense. They enjoyed a good spell, carving out chances. The difference is that Mbappe made those chances count. They took advantage of the momentum and before Argentina knew what hit them, they trailed 2-4.
If France had been unsettled by Mercado’s early second half goal, the Argentines would have consolidated and made it difficult for The Blues to fight back.
But the 1998 champions bounced back right away and took the initiative with two quick goals by Mbappe. Those goals unsettled Argentina but, what if Mbappe did an Ighalo?
It is also notable that the chances converted by Mbappe were more difficult than the ones missed by Ighalo.
At the World Cup, profligacy is often punished. Perhaps, if those chances had fallen for Musa, Eagles wouldn’t have made a first round exit. Just, perhaps.