Kylian Mbappe said that playing at a World Cup was “a dream come true” after the teenager scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Peru to send France into the last 16 on Thursday.
France, one of the pre-tournament favourites, join Uruguay and hosts Russia in the knockout rounds with one group game to go — and condemned tearful Peru to an early exit.
Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe — aged 19 years and 183 days — underlined his rich talent and became France’s youngest scorer at a World Cup when he poked home in the first half.
Didier Deschamps’ side face Denmark on Tuesday with top spot in Group C at stake but progression to the next stage assured.
In contrast, Peru face Australia with their fate sealed and just pride to play for in front of their passionate and large following that has decamped to Russia.
“I have always said that the World Cup is a dream for any player and it was a dream for me too, it was a dream that came true and I hope there will be more days like this,” Mbappe, arguably the best player in the world in his age bracket, said afterwards.
Deschamps, smiling broadly, admitted that his side were on the backfoot for the last 20 minutes and was unhappy at the way they easily surrendered possession.
But with many of the other supposed big guns at the tournament toiling, the former international midfielder and World Cup winner as a player said two wins from two games should not be sniffed at.
“We will enjoy this victory and try to recover and prepare for the next match to make sure we are number one (in the group) for the knockout stage,” he said.
Several Peru players were in tears afterwards, and although they had plenty of the ball in the second half, they created very little.
Some Peru fans were in tears even before kick-off — a generation of Peruvians have never known their country in the World Cup before.
The South Americans’ last appearance was in 1982 and they made this like a home game, ensuring their red and white dominated the Yekaterinburg Arena.
Peru’s Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca said his men had given their all but apologised to the legions of Peruvian fans who had taken over the most eastern city at the World Cup.
“There was a mass of people, we are pained we are eliminated, we are sorry that we could not give them a better tournament,” he said.
“We thank our fans and people (from other countries) will have been surprised by the passion and love our fans have for us.
“It is something that is unique and fantastic.”
– Lloris landmark –
After a slow start to the game, France began to impose themselves.
Antoine Griezmann drove straight at goalkeeper Pedro Gallese after Olivier Giroud — starting in place of Ousmane Dembele — set up the Atletico Madrid forward.
Deschamps had clearly told his side, disappointing in beating Australia 2-1 in their opener, to go long and use Giroud’s physicality.
Peru, unfortunate to lose 1-0 to Denmark in their first game, took until the half-hour to have their first serious chance, with recalled skipper Paolo Guerrero stinging the legs of Hugo Lloris.
France captain Lloris, making his 100th appearance for his country, was a bystander for long periods.
On 34 minutes France went in front. Paul Pogba cleverly played in Giroud, his shot took a deflection and looped over Gallese, allowing Mbappe to stab into an open net.
New-found confidence ran through the French and Lucas Hernandez should have made it 2-0 just before the break.
As in the first half, Peru made the better start to the second and midfielder Pedro Aquino arrowed a long-distance rocket onto Lloris’s upright.
But for all their possession, Peru — in their distinctive white kit with red sash — caused the French defence few problems.
Barcelona centre-back Samuel Umtiti was imperious alongside Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane.