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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.