On Olivier Giroud’s big night, the France striker was upstaged by his team's regular upstart.
After Giroud set his own record mark, becoming his country’s all-time leading goalscorer, Kylian Mbappe set about creating yet more history of his own.
He became the youngest player to climb to eight World Cup goals – he soon moved to nine – and in the process helped France into the last eight of this global finals. Aged 23, Mbappe consigned Eusebio’s feat to the past. Such is the company he keeps.
The electric Paris Saint-Germain forward would get another on Sunday night, the second just as impressive as the first, as France triumphed 3-1 at Al Janoub Stadium to shift into the quarter-finals. The reigning champions, apparently beset by injuries to too many prominent performers, have that swagger still. Poland, contesting a World Cup knockout for the first time in 36 years, simply did not have enough.
In a reversal of the usual dynamic, Mbappe would probably happily share the spotlight with Giroud. The AC Milan striker opened the scoring in the last-16 clash, racing on to a Mbappe pass just before half-time to finish expertly past Wojciech Szczesny. It represented his 52nd in French colours, taking him one beyond Thierry Henry, a haul now unrivalled.
Giroud did not even look up from the moment Mbappe’s pass arrived; it was a predator’s goal, underlining why he stands alone now at the top of his country's scoring charts. Henry needed 123 appearances to plunder his 51 goals. Giroud has one more in six fewer games.
Famously, or infamously, Giroud became a World Cup winner four years ago without having an attempt on target. He played 546 minutes in Russia. But here he was in Doha, another swipe at his doubters. He has more goals than starrier compatriots: Henry, Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane, Just Fontaine, Michel Platini, to name a few.
Sometimes derided, frequently underrated, Giroud is the frontman happy to play second fiddle, the perfect partner in a way to Mbappe’s magnetism. Their link-up is an obvious weapon. It should be if France are to keep hold of their crown.
Having combined for their team’s first, the pair were involved in the second. Just before the hour, France swept forward and Giroud passed for the breaking Ousmane Dembele to release Mbappe. Mbappe steadied himself, assessed his options, and unleashed a powerful drive high above Szczesny.
Four goals, then, to go with his four last time out. Before the end, he increased that tally to five. Like the first, Mbappe found space in the Poland penalty area, sized up the situation and sent a shot high into the net. It left Szczesny, his side’s standout this World Cup, with no chance.
Poland’s chances were gone. To be fair, they had given as good as they got before Giroud broke through - Piotr Zielinski really should have scored in the 38th minute and Raphael Varane hacked the rebound off the line – and they will at least have Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time penalty to point to as some consolation. It won't matter that the Barcelona star needed a second take after fluffing his initial effort into Hugo Lloris’ grasp. However, the France captain had leapt from his line a tad prematurely. Gifted a second shot, Lewandowski rolled home from the spot.
His team will now presumably head home on the next plane. France, the holders, move on. With Mbappe in this form, and Giroud content in his supporting role, the champions might take some stopping.