Istra (Russia) (AFP) – Teenager Kylian Mbappe was the star turn in France’s thrilling World Cup victory over Argentina that confirmed their status as potential champions, but the outstanding goal came from the previously unheralded Benjamin Pavard.
The right-back’s sweet strike on the half-volley that brought his side level at 2-2 early in the second half set France up to go on and win 4-3 and is a contender for goal of the tournament so far.
Back home, it saw 22-year-old Pavard being compared with Lilian Thuram, France’s most-capped player, who also produced a rare goal-scoring cameo for his country in a huge World Cup game.
In Thuram’s case it was a double strike in the 1998 semi-final against Croatia, which France won 2-1 on their way to lifting the trophy. He won 142 caps, but they were his only two international goals.
They were also the last World Cup goals scored for France by a defender, but Thuram bowed to the beauty of Pavard’s sumptuous strike at the Kazan Arena.
“I couldn’t imagine myself scoring a goal like that,” Thuram, now 46, said in an interview with AFP.
“Hugo Lloris has said that in training he scores goals like that. But I could never dream of scoring a goal like Pavard’s — I wasn’t conscious of what was going on, and I never scored in training.”
Pavard has been suddenly elevated to the role of first-choice right-back in Didier Deschamps’ side, the latest successor to Thuram in that position, due to Djibril Sidibe’s fitness problems.
He had only won three caps before being named in France’s squad for the tournament after his impressive performances in Germany for Stuttgart.
“It is a really good thing for him. It is not always easy to come into the side in a tournament when you were not a first-choice starter before,” added Thuram, who watched the Argentina game on his native Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
“That happened to me at Euro ’96. He is performing well at the top level. I congratulate him, but not just for his goal — defensively he is very good too.”
Thuram called Pavard’s goal a “game-changer”, as it set Les Bleus up to go on and win with Mbappe scoring twice as Lionel Messi and his shellshocked Argentina teammates were blown away.
France will now face Uruguay in the quarter-finals on Friday in Nizhny Novgorod in what is set to be a fascinating match-up.