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Mbappé laughs, shows his joy as World Cup history beckons

France's Kylian Mbappe celebrates his team victory over England at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between England and France, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Kylian Mbappé’s immense sense of joy was written all over his face.

The France forward’s mouth opened as wide as could be and his eyes squinted tight in elation after what he had just witnessed at the World Cup.

France’s fragile 2-1 lead in a tough quarterfinal match today was still intact after England forward Harry Kane sent a penalty kick high over the bar in the 84th minute. The defending champions held on to win 2-1 and make their way back into the semifinals.

Kane is one of the most reliable penalty takers in world soccer, and his first chance from the spot in the 54th minute had evened a back-and-forth game at 1-1. Missing the second was a surprise to everyone.

Mbappé knew it and let his glee show, a reaction that some may find disrespectful but can easily be excused given what was at stake.

Then, when the final whistle blew, Mbappé stood alone in the centre circle leaning back with both arms raised.

At the age of 23, he is only two games away from winning the World Cup for a second time.

That is rarified air to breathe. Only the great Pele’s two World Cup wins by the age of 21 — in 1958 and 1962 — compares.

France, meanwhile, is looking to become the first team since those illustrious Brazil squads from 60 years ago to retain the title.

Mbappé and France will return to Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday for a semifinal match against a Morocco team on its own mission. The Moroccans became the first team from Africa and the first from an Arab nation to reach the World Cup semifinals by beating Portugal 1-0.

Mbappé heads into the final week of the tournament as the top scorer with five goals, one more than Lionel Messi and Olivier Giroud, and with as many as the entire Morocco team in five games.

His contributions to France’s win today was in creating space for teammates by drawing England defenders across to his left flank and drifting into central areas. The jeers from the England fans that greeted Mbappé’s first touch in attack were a clear sign of the fear and respect he commands and receives.

The much-anticipated duel with speedy England right back Kyle Walker had no decisive winner, yet the threat posed by the France forward kept his marker mostly pinned back in his own half.

When Walker first fully supported an attack in the 17th minute, France broke quickly and scored.

Mbappé played his part by carrying the ball across the front of the England defense. When it came back from the right to Aurélien Tchouaméni, the midfielder sent a low shot into the net from 26 metres.

When Kane stepped up to take England’s first penalty, Mbappé tried to delay his opponent’s preparations by walking up to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris for a double high-five. Kane hit the ball high to Lloris’ right as the goalkeeper dived left.

When Kane returned to the penalty spot 30 minutes later — and only six minutes after Giroud’s deflected header restored the French lead — Mbappé stayed well away from the scene.

He was soon laughing at the result.

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Published December 10, 2022 at 7:48 pm (Updated December 10, 2022 at 7:48 pm)

Mbappé laughs, shows his joy as World Cup history beckons

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