There had been little to suggest that Argentina could go one better than four years ago but on Saturday afternoon in Kazan, La Albiceleste’s dreams came crashing down as Kylian Mbappe led France to a 4-3 victory.
The build-up was all about how Lionel Messi could solidify his greatness by leading a disjointed Argentina one step closer to another final but the curious decision to start the Argentina captain as a false nine backfired and instead Mbappe stole the show, becoming the first teenager to score two in a World Cup match since Pele netted twice for Brazil against Sweden in the 1958 final.
France had already hit the woodwork through Antoine Griezmann’s superb free-kick when Mbappe’s searing pace won Didier Deschamps’ side a penalty. Marcos Rojo clumsily dragged the teenager down and Griezmann stepped up to wrong foot Franco Armani.
It could have been worse for Argentina as Mbappe continued to threaten in behind and while La Albiceleste saw plenty of the ball, they failed to create anything of note.
Getting to half time only one behind would have probably been a positive for Argentina but Angel Di María saw to it that the outlook was even brighter with a stunning long range equaliser.
And it got better moments after the restart. Lionel Messi’s low shot didn’t look to be troubling Hugo Lloris but Gabriel Mercado stuck out a boot and deflected the ball into the opposite corner to send the Argentine crowd into raptures.
The lead lasted less than ten minutes and if Di María’s strike was good, Benjamin Pavard’s outside-of-the-boot, half volley to bring France level was even better.
The equaliser proved critical as France stepped up a gear momentarily and Mbappe blew Argentina away. Wriggling out of a tight spot in the penalty area, the Paris Saint-Germain youngster drilled a low shot under Armani and his second four minutes later was the end of a swift and ruthless counter.
Substitute Sergio Agüero headed a late goal back from Messi’s cross and while Argentina pushed for a fourth it proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
Jorge Sampaoli will naturally face questions over his future after such a chaotic campaign and while the coach has confirmed that he will not be walking away, Argentina face a significant rebuild. Javier Mascherano had already confirmed his retirement and bid the national team an emotional farewell, Lucas Biglia joined him and more may follow but whoever remains, it is time for a new generation.