Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud lift France to World Cup win over Poland

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DOHA, Qatar — No one has repeated as men’s World Cup champion in 60 years. Not the English or the Brazilians, not the Argentines, the Germans, the Italians, the French or the Spanish.

Teams go through cycles. The form wavers. The mood is sour. It’s hard enough to win a championship, but in this cutthroat competition?

The French – reigning victors, clad in elegant blue and bearing two gold stars above a rooster crest – faced strong headwinds on their arrival here. The sheer depth has helped compensate for the three injured stars, but to collect another trophy, Les Bleus will need a special contribution.

They will need Kylian Mbappe to continue their incredible form.

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In another night of outrageous football from the world’s best young player, Mbappe scored the first goal before scoring two high-quality finishes as France beat Poland 3-1 to book a quarter-final against England or Senegal on Saturday.

“There is no recipe. “No coach knows the recipe to stop Mbappe in the form he is in right now,” Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz said. “He is a fantastic player and he hurt us today. But I support it. I welcome him because he is a real star. I am talking about [Lionel] messi, [Cristiano] ronaldo, [Robert] Lewandowski. Someone will take over and I think Mbappe will be the player who will be the best for many years.”

Mbappe, 23, topped the race for the Golden Boot with his fifth goal in four games – four years after he scored four times and became the youngest scorer in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958.

“We know about Killian. We’ve seen it. He spoke on the pitch,” said France coach Didier Deschamps, adding incredibly: “He didn’t play his best game.”

Deschamps continued by saying: “He can change a match in just an instant. He always plays with such joy and we all want to share those smiles with him. France needed a great Kylian Mbappe tonight and we got him.”

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Mbappe assisted Olivier Giroud’s goal in the 44th minute and scored in the 74th and stoppage time before Lewandowski converted a penalty in the final act of the night.

There are two weeks left in this competition, but right now the MVP favorite is the flamboyant striker who plays for French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

Asked about the prospects of winning the MVP award, known as the Ballon d’Or, Mbappe said: “The only goal for me is to win the World Cup.”

“Now to win the next game, the quarter-final, is the most important thing and that’s what I dream about,” he said. “The only thing I dream about is this. I came to win this world cup. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Boot or the Golden Ball. If I win it, of course I will be happy. But I’m here to win and I’m here to help the French national team.”

Mbappe was the star of numerous matches but had not previously spoken to reporters afterwards. He apologized on Sunday.

“I just had to focus on the tournament and on my football, and when I want to focus on something, that’s how I function,” he said. The French FA faced fines from FIFA for Mbappe’s media blackout. He offered to pay the fine. Eventually he agreed to talk.

“This is my dream race and I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I have been preparing for this tournament all season, physically and mentally. I wanted to be ready for this tournament and I am, and so far things are going well. But we are very far from the final goal.”

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Poor Poland. In his last two matches, he faced Messi (Argentina) and Mbappe, both of which he lost.

In their first appearance in the round of 16 since 1986, Poland fielded one of the world’s great strikers in Lewandowski and magnificent goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who stopped two penalty kicks in the group stage.

The Poles were not daunted by their enormous task. Both were disciplined and daring, unwilling to let France run over them.

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Les Bleus used old tricks in the first half. Mbappé cut so sharply in the penalty area that Matty Cash’s ankles could have been broken. Ousmane Dembele’s cross drifted just beyond Giroud’s sliding offering in the six-yard box.

A great opportunity opened up for Poland in the 38th minute, a flurry of shots that saw France fight back. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris used his knee to stop Piotr Zelinski’s shot from 12 yards, Theo Hernandez blocked Zelinski’s follow-up and Raphael Varane cleared a goal-line shot.

Six minutes later, France took the lead. Poland thought they were properly aligned while France explored. The goal came in a flash. Giroud settled at the top of the box, taking up an inside position against Jakub Kivior, and burst into space just as Mbappe unleashed a well-weighted through pass.

Firing a 12-yard corner into the far corner, Giroud became France’s all-time top scorer with 52 goals, one ahead of Thierry Henry.

“We were lucky to be leading at halftime,” Deschamps said. “We gave Poland too many opportunities.”

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France take a firm hold on the second half. Polish threat snuffed out in the box, Antoine Griezmann, striker, sends the ball to the midfielder. The counterattack began.

As Dembele drew attention on the right, Mbappe fired his engines and sailed unmarked down the left. Poland’s carelessness was about to be punished.

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Dembele passed the ball. Mbappé picked his spot and when Szczesny leaned ever so slightly to the far side, the Frenchman ripped a shot from 17 yards into the top near corner.

In stoppage time, Mbappe grabbed a pocket of space, drew the ball away from a defender and fired a volley into the far top corner for his 16th goal in his last 14 internationals and 33rd in 63 French appearances.

“We are happy,” said Mbappe.

No doubt the remaining World Cup field is on alert.

World Cup in Qatar

The last one: The World Cup continues on Sunday when England face Senegal in the round of 16. The winner of that match will face France in the quarter-finals on Saturday, after France beat Poland in a round of 16 match earlier. Follow our live stream for the latest news, analysis and highlights.

USMNT: The U.S. Men’s National Team fell to the Netherlands 3-1 on Saturday in the first leg of the Round of 16. The United States has not won a World Cup knockout match since 2002, when it beat regional rival Mexico in the Round of 16 in South Korea.

Knockout Round Schedule: The World Cup group stage, filled with shocking upsets and dramatic twists, will now give way to a direct round that promises more surprises.

Perspective: “The gradual progress was clear, but more than that, the players performed in a matter that shows they are on the way to tremendous growth.” There is a cohesiveness and energy in the United States that should inspire belief.” Read Jerry Brewer on the future of the US Men’s National Team.

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