DOHA, Qatar, Dec 17 – Kylian Mbappe can on Sunday become the youngest player to win two World Cups since Pele achieved the feat at the age of 21.
Mbappe, who turns 24 two days after the final, is the joint leading scorer with five goals at this World Cup and the face of football’s new generation.
The last World Cup for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the tournament in Qatar surely marks the passing of the baton from the two players who have dominated the sport for nearly two decades.
While Messi has one final chance to claim an elusive World Cup title, Mbappe and France hope to usher in an era of dominance for a nation appearing in a fourth final in seven attempts.
With a squad decimated by injuries and struggling for form in the run-up, there were genuine concerns France would suffer the same fate they did as holders in 2002 and crash out in the group stage.
France may not have set the world alight en route to the final, but they have been masters of the key moments — demonstrating a ruthlessness and killer instinct when it matters most.
Much of that stems from Mbappe, the most feared player on the planet, whose goals have helped carry France to within one win of becoming the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.
“There is a great connection between the team. We work together but, when you start to come close to the title in this competition you need your main players at their best,” said goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris.
Mbappe announced himself on the global stage in 2018 with a brace against Argentina in last 16 in Russia, where he won the best young player award.
Aged 19, he became the youngest player to score in a World Cup final since a 17-year-old Pele in 1958, and Mbappe already has more World Cup goals than Portugal’s Ronaldo or Diego Maradona.
He bagged four goals in total in the 2018 edition — his first major tournament — drilling home France’s fourth in the 4-2 win over Croatia in the final.
Only Just Fontaine, who scored an incredible 13 times at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, has more World Cup goals for France.
– ‘Difficult to see the limit’ –
Mbappe has scored 250 times in 362 games for club and country, a tally that far exceeds those of Messi and Ronaldo at the same age.
“It’s difficult to see the limit for Kylian. He’s capable of breaking all records. It’s amazing to have a team-mate like him,” said Lloris.
But personal accolades are not the motivation for Mbappe with Les Bleus.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” he said.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball. That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.
“This World Cup is an obsession for me, it’s the competition of my dreams.”
France are not short on talent, but Mbappe is simply on another level.
So much so that France coach Didier Deschamps has given Mbappe a licence to roam and he often takes full advantage of that liberty, rarely getting back to help in defence at this World Cup.
It is also why Paris Saint-Germain moved heaven and earth to keep Mbappe at the club when Real Madrid looked poised to prise the forward away from the Parc des Princes.
Mbappe signed a new three-year contract to stay in his home country, a decision which President Emmanuel Macron — who flew out for the semi-final against Morocco — admitted he advised the striker to take.
Macron plans to again attend Sunday’s final at Lusail Stadium, where Mbappe has the chance to occupy the stage vacated by Messi and Ronaldo — and make his case for a first Ballon d’Or.