26.11.2022 20:55 h

Mbappe makes the difference

Kylian Mbappe delivered on the biggest stage again with two goals, including a late winner, as holders France edged Denmark 2-1 on Saturday to become the first team to reach the last 16 of the World Cup.

A potent French side knew a second victory in as many Group D outings would take them through to the knockout phase and they were well worth the lead that Mbappe gave them when he opened the scoring at Stadium 974 just after the hour mark.

However, Andreas Christensen soon equalised for the Danes and Les Bleus needed Mbappe to produce the goods again in the 86th minute as he turned in Antoine Griezmann's cross to puncture the Danish resistance once and for all.

Having scored four during France's victorious 2018 campaign and one against Australia, Mbappe now has seven goals in nine World Cup appearances.

Didier Deschamps's side have the luxury of going into their final group game against Tunisia knowing even a defeat may not prevent them finishing first.

"I am very proud of what my players did tonight," said Deschamps, who was full of praise for Mbappe after seeing the Paris Saint-Germain superstar equal Zinedine Zidane's tally of 31 international goals.

"Kylian is a an extraordinary player. He has that ability to be decisive and make the difference even when opponents try to stop him."

Meanwhile Denmark are stuck on one point after two games but a win against Australia on Wednesday should suffice for them to advance, as long as Tunisia do not beat France and do so by a greater winning margin.

"Congratulations to France for the win. You can't argue too much with it," said Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand.

"Right now we are very disappointed but we will get back on track and look forward."

France were reigning champions when a defeat to the Danes knocked them out of the 2002 World Cup, while the sides played out the only goalless draw in 2018.

More recently Hjulmand's side beat France twice in this year's Nations League, and it seemed that Deschamps had learned lessons from those encounters.

If France were a shadow of their usual selves in Copenhagen in September, they were much better in this match, played in a stadium made of shipping containers on Doha's waterfront.

If Olivier Giroud took the headlines in France's opening 4-1 win over Australia, here Ousmane Dembele was electric at times on the right, Griezmann excelled in an advanced midfield role, and Mbappe made the difference.

France's pace, power and passing were all too sharp for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists who were lucky to be level at half-time.

There were some French appeals for a red card in the 19th minute when Mbappe burst onto a beautiful threaded through ball by Griezmann only to be hauled down by Christensen, but the Danish defender escaped with a yellow.

The holders' best chances in the first half came from headers by the returning Raphael Varane and Adrien Rabiot, but when Mbappe turned away from Joachim Andersen just before the hour mark and accelerated clear, it was a sign that a goal was coming.

His shot was turned behind by Kasper Schmeichel, and Griezmann then wasted a great chance shortly after, but in the 61st minute Mbappe did score.

He linked up brilliantly with Theo Hernandez on the left and met his teammate's cutback with a shot that beat Schmeichel thanks to a deflection off Christensen.

Denmark had offered little but suddenly they were level midway through the second half as Andersen nodded down a corner for Christensen to head home.

Hugo Lloris was then forced into a key save to deny Jesper Lindstrom and Martin Braithwaite grazed a post as Denmark threatened to turn the game completely on its head.

But Mbappe was not to be denied as he stole in front of Rasmus Kristensen at the back post with four minutes left to meet Griezmann's cross and score with his right thigh.