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Mbappé powers France into last 16 after win over Denmark

LIONEL MESSI (ARG), celebrates with team in Group C match between Argentina 2-0 Mexico at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar. — NAOKI MORITA/AFLO SPORT/REUTERS

DOHA — Kylian Mbappé crowned an exhilarating individual performance with two second-half goals to make champions France the first side into the last 16 of the World Cup as they beat Denmark 2-1 in their Group D clash at the 974 Stadium on Saturday.

Mbappé’s goals sent France top the group on six points, three ahead of Australia, who beat Tunisia 1-0 earlier in the day, with the Danes and the Tunisians both on one point.

“The first objective has been achieved,” French coach Didier Deschamps said of their qualification in a post-match TV interview. “This group is strong, solid and wants to achieve great things.”

France take on Tunisia and Denmark meet Socceroos in the final round on Wednesday, with the Danes needing a win to advance.

Having lost twice to Denmark during the recent Nations League campaign, France started cautiously. But it was not long before they realized there were opportunities to be had by taking on the Danish wing backs.

Ousmane Dembele tormented Joakim Maehle and a wave of excitement swept around the stadium, which is made out of 974 recycled shipping containers, every time Mbappé got one-on-one with Rasmus Kristensen on the other flank.

The first half saw France enjoy the better chances as Adrien Rabiot went close with a header and Denmark were forced into a number of last-ditch blocks, but the Danes did go close with an Andreas Cornelius shot that flew just wide.

Their defensive resilience was not to last and Mbappé put the French ahead in the 61st minute, crowning a superb high-speed French counter with a bouncing first-time finish from Theo Hernandez’s clever pull-back.

Neither side seemed content with a draw and Rabiot fired a spectacular volley over in the 80th minute, and a minute later Denmark substitute Martin Braithwaite fired a first-time effort of his own just wide of the near post.

The game looked set to end in a stalemate until Mbappé popped up in the 86th minute at the far post to cushion home an Antoine Griezmann cross from close range to restore the lead to send the traveling French fans into raptures.

Denmark threw everything forward looking for a second equalizer, leaving acres of space at the back, but their late attacks lacked precision and the French held on for the win that put them through.

Mbappé’s brace took his international total to 31 in 61 games for France, putting the 23-year-old level with Zinedine Zidane and 20 goals behind Olivier Giroud and Thierry Henry, France’s joint record goal-scorers.

The French will face one of the teams from Group C — Poland, Saudi Arabia, Mexico or Argentina — in the last 16.

ARGENTINA 2, MEXICO 0Lionel Messi kept Argentina’s World Cup hopes alive by scoring the opening goal against Mexico from 20 yards out in the 64th minute.

Enzo Fernandez finished off the critical Group C victory with a curling shot in the 87th minute.

After a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their opener, Argentina is now one point behind group leader Poland. Argentina and Poland will meet on Wednesday.

With just one point, Mexico must beat Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to have a shot at advancing to the knockout stages.

POLAND 2, SAUDI ARABIA 0Piotr Zielinski and Robert Lewandowski each scored a goal to lift Poland over Saudi Arabia in Group C action. Zielinski scored in the 39th minute and Lewandowski doubled the advantage in the 82nd for Poland, which has four points in two matches. It will need just one point in its final match against Mexico to advance to the next round. Lewandowski’s goal was his first in the World Cup in nine career matches.

AUSTRALIA 1, TUNISIA 0Mitchell Duke scored in the 23rd minute to fuel Australia, which recorded its first World Cup victory in 12 years.

Duke’s header slipped past goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen to give the Aussies all that they needed to win their Group D match. — Reuters

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