By Julien Pretot
Paris – Kylian Mbappe loves nothing more than carrying the weight of a team on his shoulders and there is evidence he will need to do just that when France start the defence of their World Cup title.
The Paris St Germain forward, who became the second youngest player after Pele to score twice in a World Cup final in France's 4-2 win against Croatia, will have to deal with huge expectations.
His self-proclaimed drive to become the greatest will be put to the test after an under-par European Championship campaign in 2021 and in a team that is not as strong as four years ago.
With a defence that needs constant readjustments and has shown signs of nerves lately, and in the absence of pivotal midfielder N'Golo Kante, who is out injured, Les Bleus will need Mbappe at his very best and his partnership with Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema to finally produce more than a few sparks.
In the absence of the injured Benzema in the last couple of games, Mbappe has enjoyed being fielded alongside 36-year-old Olivier Giroud, whose willingness to play as a lone striker helps Mbappe find the space he craves.
"I have much more freedom here (than at PSG). The coach knows that there is a number nine like Olivier who occupies the defences. I can wander around, go into space, ask for balls," said Mbappe, who has denied asking to leave PSG amid talk that he is unhappy being played as a centre-forward in Ligue 1.
The speculation, however, has made the headlines and the 23-year-old has been the centre of attention on and off the field.
Mbappe's capacity to solely focus on his performances on the pitch might determine France's fate in Qatar, where they face Australia, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D.
Mbappe has shown no sign of slowing down in his progression, scoring 19 goals in 20 games this season.
Having missed the decisive penalty in a shootout against Switzerland that sent France packing in the last 16 at Euro 2020, Mbappe has unfinished business with the national team.
If the 23-year-old is to succeed Benzema as Ballon d'Or winner, nothing short of a sterling World Cup campaign will be acceptable for the hungry forward.
France great Thierry Henry recently urged Mbappe to put the team above his own interests and France fans will be hoping that piece of advice has been heard.