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Messi, Romero & Argentina's politics: How wonderful Mbappe showed up Sampaoli

COMMENT: It should never have reached this point. Not for a football nation of Argentina's status. Kylian Mbappe. Benjamin Pavard. Yes, it was their day. But for Argentina, this was self-inflicted. Politics and bias lost this game long before the final whistle in Kazan.

It's ridiculous. How can a football nation of Argentina's standing be so poorly prepared for a World Cup? How can they expect to triumph when they're counting on a 31 year-old goalkeeper, with zero caps to his name, to handle being on the biggest stage in sport?

Long before Mbappe fired the first of his two goals through a confused and thoroughly beaten Franco Armani, Argentina had blown this. Sergio Romero, the Manchester United goalkeeper, should've been on the pitch in Kazan Arena. He was fit. Fully fit. And he has been for over a fortnight. Yet he was nowhere to be seen, discarded by Jorge Sampaoli almost THREE WEEKS before the World Cup kicked off. It was madness. Romero was sure the knee surgery would be minor. He guaranteed Sampaoli he'd be fit for their opener against Iceland. Yet, the coach left him out. And he's paying for it today.

For Mbappe's first on 64 minutes - those in Romero's corner would be confident he'd save that. Armani, whose career success was forged in Colombia, made a hash of it. Small margins. Tiny details. That's what matters in these games. If Armani wasn't up for it, he certainly wasn't ready.

So a selection gamble that backfired? Maybe...

...because this is where locker room politics rears it's head. It does seem mad that Sampaoli would dismiss Romero so easily with the cupboard so bare. Crazy. But this is Argentina. Lionel Messi's Argentina. And for those in the know, Romero's omission had more to do with the captain than any knee twinge. Better yet, how about the captain's wife, Antonela...?

The story goes there's been tension between Romero and Messi due to problems between their wives. Accusations have been thrown at Romero's wife Eliana of criticising Antonela on social media - something which has since been blamed on a fake account. But with things brewing, when Romero broke down in training in that final week of May, opportunity knocked for federation officials. Avoid the drama. Even if it's only tabloid gossip. Just keep Messi happy.

But yesterday proved Sampaoli and the AFA gambled on the wrong horse. Armani fell short. Just as Willy Caballero had against Croatia. And as for the captain... N'Golo Kante had Messi in his pocket. And in the process, the Chelsea man silenced many of his knockers back home.

That's right. As baffling as it may seem, Kante has been hammered by many inside the French media this past fortnight. If England's snowflakes reckon they've been hard done by after defeat to Belgium, they want to ask their clubmates inside the French camp about how they're getting along with their national press.

Demands have been made for Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris to be axed. Antoine Griezmann has been mocked. And Kante's game has been pulled apart, particularly by Paris pundit Pierre Menes.

"All he does is pass the ball five metres or backwards," Menes rapped last week. "I don't know what he's thinking when he has the ball. He needs to do more. To take risks."

Well, Menes will struggle to fault Kante on Saturday's performance. He did a job on Messi. Something we've all become accustomed to. But Kante did more than just harangue and harass Argentina's No10. The Frenchman played off him. Indeed, for France's final sweeping end-to-end goal, converted by Mbappe, it was Kante who launched it all. A driving, left footed pass to feet. The very sort of ball Menes had accused the Chelsea man of being too afraid to make. No passing game? No risk-taking? Kante showed him.

And then there's Mbappe. Were Argentina prepared for him? Had Sampaoli done this homework? Leave that aside. This was the '66 Pele in England. The Michael Owen of '98. This was the day the world was introduced to the game's next big thing.

And like Romero, thinking of 'oh what could have been', was surely Roman Abramovich, Kante's employer at Chelsea. They had Mbappe at their Cobham-based academy at 11 years of age. At 14, Dad Wilfried offered him to Chelsea - but the £17,000 due in compensation was deemed too rich for those in charge. But today? On yesterday's evidence? You couldn't put a price on him.

Going into the tie, it was revealed Mbappe had decided - off his own bat - to donate all his World Cup match fees to charity. In the process, he inspired many teammates to do the same. If this lad is the future of football, let's have more of it.

As for Argentina, it's more about the past. The recent past. And how it all caught up with them in Kazan. If not for that decision in the final week of May, Romero would have been between the posts for Argentina on Saturday.

And on 64 minutes, with everything in the balance, the United keeper's presence could have changed the course of his nation's World Cup.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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