Euro 2024 should’ve belonged to Mbappé but he, France failed


MUNICH — And finally, in the 86th minute, his moment arrived. He had been waiting for it all game long. All tournament long, really.

Kylian Mbappé is running at substitute defender Dani Vivian, one on one, with acres of space in front of him. France are 2-1 down but have been the better team in a second half in which Spain will register just one touch in the opposition box. This is Mbappé’s chance to bring his team back into Tuesday’s Euro 2024 semifinal and take it to extra-time.

Of all the players on the pitch, there is no one Les Bleus would rather have on the ball than Mbappé. You would bet your house that he is going to score. You know exactly what he is going to do: run, dummy to his right and get a yard of space, and then shoot at the near post.

The Parisian has scored this exact goal countless times in his life. This is his speciality, it’s what he does best. He is like a machine in this scenario.

He isn’t wearing the mask to protect the nose he broke in France’s opening match of these Euros. He made that decision himself after discussing it with the team doctor, despite the risk of a setback.

“I had had enough. I couldn’t see properly. I don’t regret it,” Mbappé told ESPN after the match. “The doc told me to make the decision like a man.”

Without his face protection, he looks liberated.

His cross for Randal Kolo Muani’s ninth-minute goal set the tone for this match. He is sharp, but since that assist, he has been quieter. Now comes his moment, though. He does everything we expect him to do in his position but, incomprehensibly, his shot goes well over the bar.

“I think I have to score, or at least hit the target, but it goes over the bar,” Mbappé said to ESPN. “It’s the tough reality of football.”

He seems genuinely upset by the miss. It was certainly a turning point in the contest and represents one of the moments of this European Championship.

This should have been his tournament. He was the face of it, the best player in the world going into it. He should have been the star of it, the Golden Boot winner, the best player.

And he failed. France are going home, losing to Spain by that 2-1 scoreline on Tuesday.

It won’t take Mbappé long to tally up his accomplishments in Germany on the short trip home: one goal (a penalty), one assist, one cross leading to an own-goal, one broken nose and a feeling that he was never really fit and didn’t entirely fit in with this France team either.

In his mind, there will be an asterisk next to this competition, a “what if.” His broken nose changed the dynamic, for sure. He thought that he might even have to come home after the clash with Kevin Danso. He was relieved to avoid surgery and be able to remain with the team, but he never got used to his mask.

The story of France’s Euro 2024 failure isn’t Mbappé’s mask, though. The story of France’s Euro 2024 failure is that he ghosted through the entire tournament.

“I had the ambition to be a European champion, I had the ambition to have a good Euros, I did neither,” he concluded. “It’s a disappointment. I need to go on holiday now, get a good rest. I need it to come back fresh for the new season.”

So far in his career, the Euros are not his thing, unlike the World Cup, where he always shines. On the continent, 2021 was a struggle and 2024 was a nightmare.

In his first major tournament as France captain, Mbappé had the chance to emulate Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane, the Euro-winning No. 10s who came before him, and don the continental crown himself. He dreamt of reigning over Europe having already conquered the world in 2018.

There were signs that his dream would go unfulfilled, though. The second half of his season at Paris Saint-Germain was problematic. He played only 50% of the available minutes and lost significant momentum and match fitness that he never quite recovered in Germany.

“My players were not fully fit,” France manager Didier Deschamps said after the match on Tuesday. “To be able to beat this very good Spain side, you have to be at your absolute best.”

Deschamps did not mention Mbappé by name but it was no secret who he was referring to.

France were not at their best on Tuesday and neither was Mbappé. Not on Tuesday, not at any point in this tournament, really. These games have illustrated how dependent on Mbappé France really are.

Now he has to wait another four years to have another go. He will be 29 by then. This summer was a prime opportunity to be crowned European champion; Euro 2028 could be his last chance.

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