KAZAN, Russia — Lionel Messi’s fourth World Cup ended in bitter, frustrating and all-too-familiar defeat on Saturday, with Argentina tumbling out of the tournament with a 4-3 loss to a suddenly impressive France in the round of 16.
Messi departs after a frustrating tournament in which Argentina only barely escaped a humiliating elimination in the group stage. But it ended as all his major tournaments with Argentina’s senior national team have: without a trophy, and while carrying the burden of a team defeat on his slight shoulders. At 31, he may choose to make this his last World Cup.
For a few minutes in the second half, it almost seemed as if Argentina’s troubled trip at this World Cup might be extended. Angel Di Maria scored a gorgeous long-range goal just before halftime, and then Gabriel Mercado turned in a low shot by Messi three minutes into the second half for a 2-1 lead.
But France was simply too good. The teenage forward Kylian Mbappé won a penalty in the first half with a three-quarter-field run, and then scored two goals of his own four minutes apart to stick in the knife on Argentina.
[Read more about Kylian Mbappé: he’s the brightest star on a French team populated by kids who emerged from the Paris suburbs.]
Antoine Griezmann scored France’s first goal, converting the penalty Mbappé had won, and right back Benjamin Pavard slashed in France’s second in the 57th minute — a volleyed goal that was the equal of Di Maria’s stunner — after some nervous moments early in the half.
After pulling even, France simply pulled away. Mbappé restored his team’s lead with the cool of a veteran in the 64th minute, calmly finding space in the area to rip home the go-ahead goal.
Then, four minutes later, he finished off a flowing move that began deep in France’s half by slotting his second goal of the day — and third of the tournament — past Argentina’s goalkeeper Franco Armani.
Argentina got a final lifeline deep into stoppage time, when the substitute Sergio Aguero headed in a Messi cross — Messi’s second assist of the game. But Argentina needed one more, and within two minutes, it, and Messi, were out of time.
France will play the winner of Saturday’s second game, Uruguay vs. Portugal, on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod.
The victory will embolden French hopes that this team might just be good enough to win the tournament. France, while it had not lost a game in Russia, had been unimpressive in the group stage. Its final group game, a listless 0-0 draw against Denmark, was played to a chorus of boos.
But the France that tore apart Argentina was a different team. And with its core — Mbappé and Griezmann up front, Paul Pogba and the tireless N’Golo Kanté dominant in midfield, and center backs Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona) forming an unusually harmonious alliance — it might have what it takes to repeat its only triumph at the World Cup, on home soil in 1998.
The 19-year-old Mbappé became only the second teenager to score two goals in a World Cup match — after Brazil’s Pelé in 1958. A star at Paris Saint-Germain, he immediately pushed back on any comparisons.
“Let’s put things in perspective,” he said when told of the achievement. “Pelé is another category.”
Born six months after France won the 1998 World Cup, he is seen as the country’s best hope for delivering a second this summer, and he has embraced the challenge with poise and skill.
“In a World Cup you have the top players, so it’s an opportunity to show your abilities and what you can do,” he said. “There’s no better place than a World Cup.”
Here’s how France beat Argentina, 4-3:
FULL TIME: Not Enough Time for Argentina
A dangerous rip of a cross pings off an Argentine in the center and goes wide, and Faghazi blows the whistle. Whew. What a game. France 4, Argentina 3. But we all won there.
90’ + 4: Fight Ensues
But now we’re fighting after the kickoff after a rough foul by Mercado in midfield on Pogba. Otamendi, trailing, blasts the ball into the fallen Pogba and the French are NOT pleased. That wastes a ton of time, though. And Argentina didn’t have much to spare.
90’ + 3: ARGENTINA SCORES!
Aguero nods in a header deep into the four minutes of injury time, and now Argentina will try frantically for an equalizer.
89’: Mbappé Takes A Bow
Thauvin on for today’s double-scorer. He also made a three-quarter field run to earn the penalty for France’s first goal. What a day for the teenager.
87’: Argetina’s Free Kick Cleared
Di Maria takes the free kick but the first man heads it wide. There’s Argentina’s tournament in a nutshell — they’ve just not been good enough.
86’: Aguero Blocked
Messi threads a ball to Aguero in the area, but his shot is blocked. Now it gets a bit nasty as Mercado and Hernadez tangle on the right.
85’: Messi … No!
Messi with a bit of brilliance — he somehow pops a ball free to himself while cutting left to right in front of Lloris. But he falls as he sends in a weak shot, and winds up on his back.
82’: Kanté Hassles Messi
N’Golo Kanté takes down Messi again; that’s been a theme today. He’s up quick, trying desperately to mount something — anything — that might produce a goal, and perhaps hope for one more after that. But France isn’t making it easy; they’ve been super today since falling behind.
80’: Messi’s Last Stand?
This is a big 10 minutes in Argentine soccer history. Messi is 31, and has already returned from the national team once, in 2016, in despair after a loss in a major tournament. Will he hang around until 2022 for what could be — with this core — more disappointment? A fifth World Cup might tempt him. Or he might just call it. We’ll see.
75’: Changes for Argentina and France
Two subs: Meza for Argentina, replacing Pavon. He’s Sampaoli’s last sub.And Corentin Tolisso replaces Matuidi, who is carrying a yellow. They don’t want to lose him for the quarters, so that’s a safety move.
73’: Not This Time
Mbappé proves he’s human, butchering a first-touch volley he had hoped to send into the path of Griezmann.
70’: Target Practice for France
Pogba galloping again up the middle, finds Giroud out wide on the left side. He slashes a shot into the side netting. It’s target practice all of a sudden, and Argentina looks frazzled. Blood in the water now for France.
68’: GOAL! MBAPPÉ AGAIN!
Kylian Mbappe has given France a 4-2 lead.
Kanté-Griezmann-Matuidi-Giroud-Mbappé in stride in the area. They just walked that up three-quarters of the field and into the goal. Gorgeous move. That’s Mbappé’s second today and his third of the tournament. He is 19 years old. 19!!
65’: France Responds to Pressure
France really showing some grit here in answer to Argentina’s fiery goals on either side of halftime. It’s going to be really hard on the loser today.
64’: GOAL! France Back in Front
Kylian Mbappé gets his second goal of the World Cup and it’s a terrific bit of close-quarter work.
A cross by Hernandez from the left falls to Mbappé who, cool as a cucumber, eschews a shot to push the ball into space on the left. Once there, he hammers it under Armani.
60’: Will This Pace Continue?
This is fun for all of us, but Sampaoli and Deschamps probably both could do with a little possession and calm now. I, for one, support more sensational goals scored from outside the penalty area.
57’ GOAL! France Equalizes
FRANCE! We’re even!!!!
What a great game this is. Benjamin Pavard collects an Hernandez cross that sails through to the far side and hits a volley that may have been better than Di Maria’s, which is saying something.
Outside of the foot, backspin, into the far-side netting. It’s Pavard’s first goal for France, and for a right back, it’s one to remember.
56’: France Threatens
Argentina what are you doing!?!?!? A backheel by Giroud into the area rolls harmlessly toward Armani until Fazio decides to play it — and taps it past him. Then it’s a frantic scramble as Griezmann nearly gets to it first. But, under pressure, he shoots wide.
53’: Free Kick for France
Trouble off the ball as Perez clips Kante from behind. It’s a free kick for France. Mbappe taking it ….
The free kick is cleared and Griezmann fouls Di Maria, who for 10 full seconds is mortally wounded. Back up now.
49’: France Scrambling
France has to be wondering what’s happened here. They give up their lead on a wondergoal just before the half, then fall BEHIND three minutes into the second on another long shot that goes in on a deflection. They’re suddenly in a world of trouble, and Argentina is not going to make it easy.
48’: GOAL! Messi’s Shot Goes In
Argentina immediately wins a free kick way out on the left. It’s cleared — but no it’s not!!!!!! Messi’s blast deflects off his collected clearance following the free kick, but Argentina sure doesn’t care.
Looks like Mercado will get credit for the own goal — he stuck his toe in the way of Messi’s shot and wrong-footed Lloris.
46’: Second Half Begins
Back under way. Rojo, one of three Argentines to pick up a yellow in the first half, gives way to Federico Fazio. That could be an attempt to save him if they win — Mascherano’s yellow means he would miss a potential quarterfinal — or it could be a sign that they’re worried Mbappé’s pace might yield a red next time. Best of luck, Federico. That’s a tough job you just got.
Halftime II: Measuring Di Maria’s Goal
Di Maria’s goal was apparently measured at just over 30 yards, which makes it the longest-range goal of this World Cup, per FIFA.
Halftime: France 1, Argentina 1
France will like the first 40 minutes of that, and Argentina will be thrilled with the last five or so. We’re tied but France has been dominant and organized even as Argentina has had most of the possession. But Di Maria’s rocket wiped out nearly a full half a good work, and we’re all square with a half to go.
45’ +2: Griezmann Denied
Griezmann tries to turn Mascherano deep in the right corner, but the veteran knocks the ball out. There’s the whistle. Halftime. Tie game.
44’: Argentina Alive
It’s hard to overstate how important it was for Argentina to show some life before the break. They had dominated possession with little to show for it, and going into halftime down a goal after that — with their World Cup life on the line — would have been tough to swallow. But one shot changes everything, and they’re suddenly, visibly, more alive here.
43’: Yellow for Mascherano
Mascherano finally gets his yellow, for a two-footed challenge on Kanté.
GOAL! Argentina Equalizes
WHAT A GOAL! Argentina’s ties the game, 1-1, through Angel Di Maria.
That was a rocket, and Lloris was beaten dead to rights. Bedlam in the Argentina-heavy stands.
That’s the first mistake by France defensively: they just left Di Maria standing there out top alone, and when the ball came to him he took a touch and absolutely lashed a left-footed shot past a diving Lloris.
That two full 20-second ‘Gooooooools’ back to back from Telemundo’s Andres Cantor. Remember, he’s an Argentine.
38’: Argentina Threatens
There’s some danger from Argentina at last: Pavon gets to the end line on the right and cuts back toward the spot, but Pavard beats everyone to it and stabs the ball out.
37’: Manhandling Messi
Messi down in the area, but not even he appeals for a penalty. He does not appear to like all the manhandling he’s getting though.
36’: Face Flags
If you’re wondering why so many people show up at these games with flags on their faces, it’s because the Russian organizers have sent teams of women out around the stadiums before each match armed with paint palettes and brushes. There are lines at every game, but they do nice work. Russia is easier than, say, Morocco.
35’: Rough Exchange
The teams trade clipped ankles and rolling tumbles of despair and agony. But Giroud actually fouled Otamendi, so it’s Argentina ball. First and 10.
32’: Mascherano Sends a Message
Pogba wins the ball and holds off Messi with a Heisman-like stiff arm. Mascherano didn’t like that, though, and in N.H.L. enforcer mode he just hammers Pogba from behind. Could have been a yellow, or a two-minute minor, but the referee decides against.
31’: Pogba Gets Involved
Now it’s Paul Pogba loping up the center like a thoroughbred. He feeds the 19-year old Mbappé on the right as he approaches the area, but he tries to cut back and loses the ball.
A minute later he and Olivier Giroud break in, but Giroud zigs as the pass zags, and the chance rolls right into Armani’s arms.
30’: Messi the Decoy
Messi just walking in midfield now, almost a decoy. France is keeping a close watch on him, though, so he’s going to have to work really hard to find some space to be Messi.
28’: No Penalty on France Hand Ball
Mercado on an overlapping run into the area lifts the ball and it hits Umtiti’s arm as it sails harmlessly through the crease in front of Lloris. He appeals for a penalty but V.A.R. clearly sees that as unintentional, because the game promptly continues. (Remember, they can tell the referee in real time what they’ve seen, and he can take their word.)
26’: Ball Control, but No Bite for Argentina
Argentina has had 70 percent possession so far, but hasn’t mustered so much as a single shot. France, meanwhile, has hit the crossbar and scored a goal with its rare bits of possession.
25’:Umtiti Goes Down
Umtiti goes down at the other end as Lloris charges left to smother a chance. It looks like Perez may have caught Umtiti, but they shake hands and there’s no VAR to see if something untoward occurred.
23’: Argentina Defense Continues to Struggle
Argentina has now given up more goals (six) than any team left in the tournament. They and Spain were both at five in the group stage.
22’ Escape for Argentina
Kylian Mbappé clearly has instructions to run at the back four every chance he gets. And he will get more chances.
Christopher Clarey: France’s 4 goals in this World Cup so far: penalty, own goal, tap-in after deflection and penalty
21’ Pogba Misses
Pogba skies it. Tough to get it up and down over the wall from that close. But also tough to get it down when you only hit it up.
20’: Dangerous Free Kick for France
Pogba and Griezmann over it again ……They seem to be negotiating.
19’: Mbappé Causing Problems for Argentina
Mbappé in again! He’s tormenting Argentina. He splits the center backs again and is pulled down by Rojo AGAIN.
This one is just outside the area though, sparing Argentina another penalty. That probably keeps Rojo in the game, too, since he got a yellow on the earlier penalty. This one was about six inches outside the area, and the referee lets him slide.
18’ Di Maria’s Free Kick Handled
Argentina’s Angel Di Maria fails to beat the first defender with a free kick on the left.
14’: Disaster for Argentina
It’s also a disastrous start for Argentina, exposing what has been their weak spot all tournament: a defense that just isn’t up to World Cup-winning standards.
13’ GOAL! France Leads, 1-0
Antoine Griezmann rolls it calmly almost straight up the middle as Armani dives to his left. That’s the start France needed, and the goal that Griezmann needed.
11’ Penalty Kick for France!
No doubt about it; Kylian Mbappé with a solo run that causes panic in the back, and Rojo, beaten around the corner, pulls him down.
Mbappé is down, but what a run: straight up the middle and leaving at least four Argentines in the dust. Rojo just reached in in vain, and they went down together. Griezmann will take the penalty kick.
9’: Griezmann Rattles the Crossbar!
What a rocket off the free kick; Armani just watched it from the ground. The first chance of the game is a near-miss, but a good sign if you’re France.
7’: Argentina’s Formation
Argentina’s setup so far appears to be Messi alone up front, with five midfielders in support and Mascherano standing in the middle pointing and yelling about where everyone with the ball should send it next.
6’: Di Maria and Messi Miss Connection
A super through ball springs Di Maria on the left, but his cross is air-mailed and goes out for a goal kick. Messi looks over as if to say, “Duuuudde …….”
4’: Free Kick Cleared by France
Dangerous chance comes out of it though, with a free kick on the left, but France clears.
3’: France Will Be Physical All Day
Matuidi whacks Messi as he tries to cut inside. More physical play, and volunteer referee Javier Mascherano is quick to point out that’s a couple times the little man has been bodied already.
2’: France Deals With Messi
Messi gets his first touch, but a pressing France (well, Kanté) immediately dispossesses him. He’s going to be all over the Argentine captain today, and he’s very good at that.
1’: A Quick Whistle
The game lasts only seconds before Giroud trucks Tagliafico chasing a header. That may be a message, or just hyper-nerves. But it won’t be the last time Giroud runs over an Argentine, trust us.
O.K., the anthems are done. Here we go. Warm hug between France’s Umtiti and Messi in the handshake line; they’re teammates at Barcelona. Rojo and Pogba will know each other from Manchester United, too.
France will be in blue with white shorts today. Argentina is in its traditional blue-and-white stripes with black shorts.
Our referee today is Alireza Faghani of Iran. It’s an Italian V.A.R. crew.
Argentina’s Starting Lineup
Argentina drops Aguero again, and starts with Di Maria and Pavon up front flanking Messi.
12 Franco Armani (River Plate)
2 Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla)
17 Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
16 Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)
3 Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax)
15 Enzo Perez (Boca Juniors)
14 Javier Mascherano (Hebei Fortune)
7 Ever Banega (Sevilla)
22 Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors)
10 Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
11 Angel di María (Paris St Germain)
France’s Starting Lineup
France goes back to its A-list:
1 Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
2 Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart)
4 Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
5 Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
21 Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid)
13 N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea)
6 Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
10 Kylian Mbappé (Paris St Germain)
7 Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
14 Blaise Matuidi (Juventus)
9 Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)