Kazan, June 30 (AP/UNB) — Teenager Kylian Mbappe scored two goals in a five-minute span to lead France over Argentina 4-3 Saturday and into the World Cup quarterfinals.
The loss could be the end of Lionel Messi's international career.
Mbappe, a constant threat to Argentina's creaking defense with his speed and skill, was at the heart of France's often-breathtaking display, particularly in the middle part of the second half.
With the score even at 2-2, the 19-year-old Mbappe got his first goal with a cool finish from a tight angle in the 64th minute, his low shot going under Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani. Four minutes later, he slotted past Armani again after he was put through on goal by a deft pass from Oliver Giroud.
Mbappe also helped France to its first goal. Following a sustained period of early pressure, he won a penalty after a 40-meter burst of speed that ended with him being brought down by Marcos Rojo. Antoine Griezmann then scored from the spot in the 13th minute, sending Armani the wrong way.
France will next face either Portugal or Uruguay in the quarterfinals on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod.
Argentina briefly took the lead in the 48th minute at Kazan Arena, but France defender Benjamin Pavard equalized nine minutes later with a superb strike from outside the area.
Argentina got its goals from Angel Di Maria, Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Aguero. Messi set up the latter two, first sending a shot on goal that Mercado deflected into the net in the 48th.
With time winding down, the 31-year-old Messi gave Argentina a bit of hope with a cross to the left that Aguero headed into goal in stoppage time.
Di Maria's goal was one of the best of the tournament.
Following a throw-in, he hit a hard shot from 30 yards that curled into the top right corner, beyond the dive of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Nizhny Novgorod, June 23 (AP/UNB) — It looked like a defeated army surrendering to the enemy, humiliated. Grim faces avoiding eye contact, parading behind their leader to an uncertain fate.
Argentina's national team, led by captain Lionel Messi, behaved just like that after a chastening 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the World Cup on Thursday.
With just one point from its first two group matches, Argentina is in trouble. That distress eased only slightly Friday when Nigeria beat Iceland 2-0.
But Argentina now has to face the African team, which showed that it has attacking prowess and a fighting spirit, in their final Group D match Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
There's still a chance for Argentina to advance, but the South Americans have to win and their destiny is partly in the hands of other teams.
If Argentina has any shot, it will fall to Messi. He needs to dig deep and end his scoring drought at the tournament.
But the team has been acting like elimination is a foregone conclusion.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli spoke as if an era had ended. He made it clear that his blueprint "didn't succeed." He tried different tactics and tweaked formations, but nothing worked. The loss to Croatia came after a 1-1 draw with Iceland, a nation of 350,000 people that is playing in its first World Cup.
"There's nothing to say. The result speaks for itself," defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano said. "We can only swallow the poison and see what happens" in the other group matches.
The criticism back home has been ruthless. The main targets are Sampaoli and goalkeeper Wilfred Caballero, whose error led to Croatia's first goal.
And there are others who are pointing the finger at Messi, accusing him of lacking leadership.
Argentines had been demanding that the team bring back the title even though it had a tough qualification and suffered a 6-1 defeat to Spain in a friendly in preparation for the tournament. Sampaoli is the third coach since the 2014 World Cup, which Argentina finished as runner-up.
Those who think the team has a shot at winning the 2018 edition is taking into account Argentina's history, not its present-day situation. And they have been relying on Messi to see them through.
But so far Messi has had nobody to support him, since Argentina's midfield is its weakest link and has been generating little creativity. The team lacks identity and doesn't scare opponents.
There also appears to be discord in the dressing room, especially toward the coach. Forward Sergio Aguero responded in a defiant tone that Sampaoli "can say what he wants," when journalists told him about the coach's post-match remarks.
The booing of Sampaoli and Caballero by Argentina fans after the first goal only has helped to exacerbate the crisis.
"The feeling is of extreme pain to not have been at the level that the Argentine people wanted," Sampaoli said. "I want to apologize to everyone that came to see us. I feel responsible for this. I had belief just like them and today I'm very hurt. I have tried to do my best until now and I haven't found the way to give them what they want."
Nizhny Novgorod, June 22 (AP/UNB) — Lionel Messi's frustrating international career may be coming to an early and anti-climactic finish after Argentina's worst loss in World Cup group play in 60 years.
With Diego Maradona watching from the stands, the 2014 runners-up were routed by Croatia 3-0 Thursday. The Croats are moving on to the round of 16.
Messi got off only one shot in a defeat that pushed Argentina to the brink of elimination. Messi, who turns 31 on Sunday, has never won a major title with Argentina's senior national team despite of decade of championships with Barcelona and five player of the year awards.
"He is our captain, he leads the team and we quite simply couldn't pass to him," Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said. "We work to give Leo the ball, but the opponent also works hard to prevent him from getting the ball."
Messi also missed a penalty kick in his team's opening 1-1 draw against Iceland.
Argentina, hurt by the poor play of goalkeeper Willy Caballero on Thursday, had not lost by such a large margin in the first round since a 6-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia in 1958. Caballero gained the starting role because No. 1 keeper Sergio Romero injured his knee last month in the run-up to the tournament.
"We have to swallow the poison," Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said. "The game says it all."
Argentina, which has not missed making the second round since 2002, has not been eliminated. But the two-time champions need to win their next match against Nigeria on Tuesday, as well as get help from other matches.
Thursday's humiliating loss came in humiliating fashion for one of soccer's most storied nations.
Caballero mangled a clearance and kicked the ball toward Croatia defender Ante Rebic, who one-timed it into the net in the 53rd minute.
Caballero buried his face in his hands while a giant television screen showed Maradona doing the same.
"After they scored on us, we were emotionally broken," Sampaoli said. "I had a lot of hope. I am extremely hurt by this defeat, but I probably didn't understand the match the way I should have."
And it got worse as Argentina crumbled, frustrated by the Croatian defense. Modric scored with a hooking shot in the 80th and Ivan Rakitic added the third in stoppage time.
Croatia frustrated Argentina throughout the match and never gave Messi space to operate.
"Argentina wasn't confused. We were excellent," Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. "We beat a great Argentina with the best player in the world playing, Messi."
Croatia, which reached the 1998 World Cup semifinals but has not advanced past the group stage since then, will face Iceland on Tuesday in Rostov-on-Don.
"Let's keep our feet firmly on the ground and prepare for the next matches," said Modric, the man of the match. "We should be focused on what awaits. Every next game is going to be more difficult, but our main objective has been reached. It looks easy, but it was not that easy."
Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986 — the last with Maradona as the star player — but has not won any major title in 25 years. The Argentines also lost in the last two Copa America finals.
Croatia has advanced with six points from two matches in Group D, while Argentina has only one point and is facing elimination.
Iceland also has one point, and Nigeria has zero. Nigeria and Iceland play on Friday.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Croatia stymied Messi for 90 minutes, not allowing even one shot.
The Croats played with five midfielders and seemed to close down any possible space.
Before the match, Dalic said this was going to be Croatia's "easiest game." He clarified that by saying it would not be an "easy opponent" but it would be a "pressure-free match."
MESSI OR RONALDO?
Sampaoli didn't want to choose when asked if Cristiano Ronaldo was the best player in the world.
"I think Cristiano is a great player. You can look at all he has achieved as a player for his club and his country," Sampaoli said. "Right now we shouldn't compare these two players ... Leo is limited because the team doesn't gel ideally as it should. As coaches we need to realize these things and I am the one who needs to accept that."
St. Petersburg, June 22 (AP/UNB) — Neymar will start for Brazil in a mostly unchanged lineup against Costa Rica on Friday at the World Cup.
Although Brazil coach Tite said Neymar still needs time to reach peak shape, he insisted he is not endangering the striker's health.
"Yes, he will be playing. There's no sacrifice here," Tite said through a translator Thursday. "We want to win but the coach is not going to play around with a player's health, the price would be too high to pay."
Tite was expected to use the same 11 players that were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in the team's opening match, but right back Danilo got injured in the team's final training session on Thursday and will be replaced by Fagner.
Neymar limped out of a training session on Tuesday after appearing to hurt his right ankle. But on Wednesday, the Brazilian soccer confederation posted photos and a video of Neymar training with the rest of the squad and said he was fine.
"It's an evolutionary process. You need to speed up the steps," Tite said. "He's already speeded up that process."
The world's most expensive player, who joined Paris Saint-Germain for 222 million euros ($260 million) from Barcelona, only just made it to the World Cup after breaking a toe in his right foot on Feb. 25.
After recovering from surgery, Neymar played in two World Cup warm-up matches and scored in both to take his international tally to 55 goals.
But he lacked sharpness when Brazil opened its World Cup campaign with the draw against Switzerland on Sunday. Although Neymar was fouled 10 times during that match, he was still noticeably below his best.
On Thursday, Tite became angered after he was asked if he had spoken personally with Neymar to encourage him to be more unselfish.
"Absolutely not. The information you got is not true," Tite shouted, his voice rising steeply as he called it a lie. "That didn't happen."
He then said it would be pointless to restrict Neymar's way of playing.
"I'm not going to take his initiative away from him in the last third of the field, take away his genius," Tite said. "The last third of the field is where you have to go to create chances, and I'm not going to take that away from anyone."
Anything but victory could leave Brazil, one of the title favorites in Russia, in a difficult position to advance from the group stage.
Serbia leads Group E with three points after beating Costa Rica 1-0 and next plays Switzerland in Kaliningrad on Friday. Serbia and Brazil then meet on Wednesday in Moscow.
Brazil has no margin for error against Costa Rica, which won its group at the last World Cup and reached the quarterfinals.
"It is a decisive game, of course," said Tite, who sat next to defender Thiago Silva. "You can't run away from that."
Silva will take over as captain from left back Marcelo because Tite is rotating the job. Silva was Brazil's captain four years ago, when he was criticized for breaking down before a penalty shootout in the round of 16.
In Russia, he's urging his teammates to be brave.
"The team is fully aware of what we are going to be facing tomorrow," he said. "They didn't start well but they are ready to recover. The fight is on."
Moscow, June 22 (AP/UNB) — The most decorated team in soccer plays on the same day as the newest stars on the international stage as Brazil and Iceland both hit the pitch Friday in group stage of the World Cup.
Brazil opened Group E play with a 1-1 tie against Switzerland in a disappointing tournament opener for one of the World Cup favorites. Iceland, meanwhile, is soaring after a 1-1 draw with mighty Argentina in its World Cup debut.
Iceland is the smallest nation in field and playing in only its second major tournament. The tiny country became a darling of the soccer world after its improbable run to the quarterfinals of the 2016 European Championship. A win or draw Friday in Group D play would make Iceland the first squad to avoid a loss in its opening two World Cup matches since Senegal in 2002.
But the day begins in St. Petersburg in a match between Brazil and Costa Rica. Questions surround Brazil star Neymar, who limped out of a training session earlier this week.
The Brazilian soccer federation said Thursday that Neymar is just fine and posted photos and a video of him practicing Wednesday with the rest of the squad.
"I trained well, felt comfortable," Neymar said in the video. "The foot is fine."
Brazil officials insist his current issue is not linked to the foot injury that sidelined Neymar for about three months earlier this year. Brazil needs him to deliver after the flat draw against Switzerland. The team is among the top in the world and anything but a victory against Costa Rica would make it harder to advance from the group stage.
Brazil also has a controversy over which player to start in the lone-striker role. Gabriel Jesus started Brazil's opening group game but was substituted out by Roberto Firmino, who was the stronger player and nearly scored a late winner from a header.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, topped its group and reached the World Cup quarterfinals four years ago but is on its heels after a 1-0 loss to Serbia in its first game. Costa Rica doesn't have history on its side: Brazil has won nine out of 10 matches against Costa Rica, with its only loss coming in a 1960 friendly. Costa Rica's only World Cup victory against a team from South America was four years ago against Uruguay.
The first of Friday's three games begins at 3 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT; 1200 GMT).
A look at Friday's other matches:
NIGERIA VS. ICELAND
6 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT, 1500 GMT)
Nigeria dropped its first group match 2-0 to Croatia and is considered so far to be one of the underperforming teams of the tournament.
The Nigeria team is the youngest in the World Cup with an average age of just below 26, and although it is the most populous nation in Africa with some 185 million people, the team has never advanced past the round of 16.
The game in Volgograd is so highly anticipated in Iceland that its national post office has announced it will close more than three hours early as most of the country is expected to watch.
The draw against Lionel Messi and Argentina was nearly as big as a victory and has Iceland believing it can advance out of the group. To do so, captain Aron Gunnarsson said, Iceland must forget about the Argentina match.
"We can't dwell on that game now," Gunnarsson said. "If we don't focus on Nigeria and don't get a result there, then that (Argentina) point is no use for anyone."
Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson was the man of the match against Argentina, chiefly for saving a penalty kick by Messi.
"This is a must-win game for Nigeria, and that makes it a little bit psychologically different — they have to win," Iceland coach Heimer Hallgrímsson said. "This group is going to be decided in the last minutes, in the last game. It's going to be down to some margins, a set piece, a goal in extra time. This is how this group is going to be played."
SERBIA VS. SWITZERLAND
9 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT, 1800 GMT)
A 1-0 victory over Costa Rica has Serbia headed into its game against Switzerland eying a spot in the round of 16.
Because Brazil's opener also ended in a draw, Group E is wide open right now and Serbia will play Friday for an outright victory against Switzerland.
"If we do the math and start playing for a draw then it will not be successful," captain Aleksandar Kolarov said. "Of course we want to win."
It was a free kick from Kolarov that put Serbia in solid position in the group, but Switzerland may be as tough a foe as Brazil. Switzerland has lost just one of its last 23 matches — a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in a World Cup qualifier in October.
Switzerland used a strong defense and midfield to stifle Brazil, and midfielder Valon Behrami made the match very difficult for Neymar. Behrami became the first Swiss player to appear at four World Cups when he started against Brazil, but he left that match in the 70th minute with a thigh injury.
It's not clear how healthy he'll be for the match, and he skipped at least one training session this week.
Serbia, meanwhile, is seeking to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1998, when it was known as Yugoslavia. The team did not make it out of the group stage in 2006 or 2010 and did not qualify for Brazil four years ago.