The National Times - Maskless Mbappe upstaged in France Euro 2024 semi-final defeat

Maskless Mbappe upstaged in France Euro 2024 semi-final defeat

Maskless Mbappe upstaged in France Euro 2024 semi-final defeat
Maskless Mbappe upstaged in France Euro 2024 semi-final defeat / Photo: © AFP

Kylian Mbappe shed his face mask but still looked a shadow of the player who has lit up past major international tournaments as the France captain was upstaged by Lamine Yamal in Tuesday's Euro 2024 semi-final against Spain.

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Yamal stole the headlines by becoming the youngest ever European Championship goal-scorer four days before his 17th birthday, inspiring a Spain comeback to beat France 2-1.

Mbappe's Euro therefore ended here, and it has been a disappointing tournament for the France skipper and arguably the world's best player, overshadowed by a broken nose, fitness struggles and poor form.

With vice-captain Antoine Griezmann also below his best, it was always going to be a big ask for France to reach the final.

"I am not going to give the responsibility to one player more than another. The responsibility is mine," said coach Didier Deschamps.

"It was down to different reasons related to how their seasons ended, and there was also Mbappe's injury.

"When you get to the semi-finals and play a Spain team of that quality, you have to be at your best," he said, before admitting that was not the case for Mbappe.

The 25-year-old broke his nose in France's opening game, a 1-0 win over Austria on June 17, compromising their chances from the outset.

He missed the 0-0 draw with the Netherlands that followed, before returning to score a penalty in a 1-1 stalemate with Poland.

Mbappe wore a mask in that game to protect his nose and kept it on for the last-16 win over Belgium and the quarter-final against Portugal.

Yet he admitted to feeling inhibited by the mask, which reduced his field of vision and became clogged up with sweat.

"The mask was more of an inconvenience than anything else," Deschamps said.

- Only one Euros goal -

On Tuesday, 22 days after suffering the injury, Mbappe decided to play without the mask against Spain.

At first he appeared liberated on the left wing, and it looked set to be a long night for Spain's 38-year-old right-back Jesus Navas.

Mbappe set up the early opener with a cross for Randal Kolo Muani to head in.

However, Yamal equalised in stunning fashion before the midway point in the first half, and Dani Olmo put Spain ahead four minutes later.

As Spain took control, Mbappe appeared isolated and it was no surprise to see Deschamps move his captain to a central role for the last half-hour.

Bradley Barcola was introduced on the left, and Griezmann entered the fray to support Mbappe.

The striker's fitness was impacted by his reduced playing time at Paris Saint-Germain in the final months of the season, after he informed them of his intention to join Real Madrid.

That also hindered his ability to make his trademark electrifying runs in behind defences.

France's attacking game suffered, and they came into the semi-final without any of their players having scored a goal from open play at the Euros.

Mbappe also indicated in one press conference that he no longer had the teammates capable of giving him the necessary service.

"Lots of people refer to the way we played when I first came into the team, but we had players like Paul Pogba who are not here anymore," he said.

"With him, all you need to do is put your head down and run in behind, and you would get the ball to your feet."

Yet Mbappe was played in perfectly four minutes from the end against Spain by Barcola, only to blaze over.

Mbappe announced himself on the global stage when helping France win the 2018 World Cup as a teenager, and was the top scorer at the 2022 World Cup with eight goals, including a hat-trick in the final against Argentina.

But the Euros have not brought the best out of Mbappe, who has one goal in nine appearances at the competition.

In Germany, in his first major tournament as captain, Mbappe spoke a good game off the field, especially about the political situation back home as France faced the possibility of a far-right victory in legislative elections.

But he has struggled on the pitch, and will now benefit from a break before a fresh start in his career in Madrid.

"I need to go home, have a holiday and get some rest," he said.