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Russia 2018 delivers a reminder of football’s fleeting nature    

By Michael Place MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- On the day that football’s two brightest stars faded from view at the World Cup in Russia, a new one was born.

In years to come, June 30, 2018 might go down as the day that Kylian Mbappe heralded the start of a new era. The French forward produced an explosive display - one reminiscent of a young Brazilian Ronaldo - scoring twice and drawing a penalty to lead his team to a thrilling 4-3 victory over Argentina in Kazan.

The result eliminated Argentina from the tournament, leaving Lionel Messi lamenting yet another disappointment with his national team.

Later on Saturday, Messi’s long-time Ballon d’Or rival Cristiano Ronaldo also departed as Uruguay knocked out Portugal with a 2-1 win in Sochi.

While the football world rightly swooned over the performance of Mbappe, it was difficult not feel a little sorry for Messi and Ronaldo, along with perhaps a pang of nostalgia too.

Their post-match demeanors were as contrasting as their playing styles, but both looked shattered by the reality that this could have been their last chance to win the World Cup.

Messi cut a desolate figure as he trudged off the Kazan Arena pitch, speechless and gazing into the middle distance as if hypnotized.

His teammates and several France players - including Paul Pogba - embraced the Argentina No. 10 but there was little love in return. Messi seemed lifeless, like a blow-up doll deflated by 90 relentless minutes in which he and his team were subjugated by France’s Mbappe-inspired brilliance.

Around four hours later, it was Ronaldo’s turn to have his World Cup dream ruined. The Real Madrid talisman wore an expression that betrayed anger, disappointment and the slightest hint of determination - a sign perhaps that he will be back in four years time in Qatar at the age of 37.

Messi is more than two years younger than the Portuguese but there are fears that he may never again be seen in an Argentina shirt.

The Barcelona forward has already quit the national team once before and, unlike Ronaldo, has always looked uneasy carrying the weight of a country’s expectations on his shoulders.

Messi is yet to win a major trophy with Argentina, leading them to runners-up at the 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America. Will this prove to be one defeat too many?

While football fans contemplate the possible exit from the international stage of the men that defined an era, it is also time to rejoice the arrival of a new protagonist.

Mbappe’s performance on Saturday was lauded as one of the best ever in this competition by a player under 20.

The last time a teenager scored twice at the same World Cup was in 1998 when Michael Owen achieved the feat for England.

And not since Pele in 1958 has a teenager scored twice in the same World Cup match.

As Germany might also attest, this World Cup has reminded us of football’s ephemeral nature. Great teams come and go. Players too. We have to enjoy them while we can.

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