The mercurial 19-year-old was not the difference-maker on the night but in this most closely contested of World Cups he just might be on Sunday
So far this has been a World Cup of tactical understanding and physical prowess. By Sunday evening, it could be the World Cup of Kylian Mbappe.
France edged out Belgium in St Petersburg not with an Mbappe goal but, somewhat predictably, a header from a corner, courtesy of Samuel Umtiti.
Again somewhat predictably, this was a closely contested match that could really have gone either way. In the past two games of the respective teams, Belgium were ultimately better organised and, with all due respect, luckier than Japan and Brazil.
It has been the same story for France; they ruthlessly exploited a weak Argentina – although still conceded three goals – and edged past a stubborn Uruguay thanks to another set-piece goal and a goalkeeping howler.
Between them they have laid waste to South America’s brightest hopes, leaving many of the continent’s pundits bemoaning their sides’ lack of European know-how.
“We still have the Messis and Neymars,” says Jorge Valdano, a world champion with Argentina in 1986, “but for the first time in a decade, the physical aspect imposed itself on the technical aspect and the collective aspect on the individual aspect.
“That is why the middle classes, like Sweden and Russia, reached the quarter-finals.”
And it is why France and Belgium, two vastly more talented nations, went one step further. When they faced off on Tuesday night, the game, which was enjoyable and full of chances, followed a predictable pattern; there was bright attacking play from some of the fine individuals on show, but ultimately this was a structured game where both defences – and their goalkeepers – held up well.
Antoine Griezmann France 100718
Umtiti out-jumped Marouane Fellaini at a corner six minutes into the second half and that was the difference. The European teams that have arrived to the last four have relied on these fine margins; Croatia have won on penalties twice, England have done it once, and have made hay at set-pieces all summer.