Let history record that Kylian Mbappé's only shot of the night was a lunge-cum-flail that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Phoenix Park on a Sunday morning. He found himself a half-thought of space in behind the Ireland defence in the 87th minute to get on the end of a lofted France free-kick. But couldn’t really sort his feet out and the ball bounced away into the night sky like he was other people. He turned away and laughed like a drain.
He didn’t light the place up, there was nothing here to fill a YouTube three minutes. The France goal came from a move he started but the key protagonists were Josh Cullen who gave the ball away and Benjamin Pavard who buried the loose ball. But though Mbappé had no tangible effect on the scoreboard, he was still the player who had the most influence on the shape of the game. Just about everything Ireland did on the night had him factored in.
It must be a weird existence, always knowing that the opposition is scared stiff of you. That every twitch, every ankle waggle, every stutter-step has to be honoured in case it’s The One. Like the Queen presuming that every room in the world smelled of fresh paint, Mbappé must imagine that every defender in football is a nervous wreck. All they do all game is keep checking where he is, like he’s a cartoon anvil about to land on their head.
He spent this game as the nagging doubt in Irish heads, dragging them around when he didn’t have the ball, drawing them to him when he did. It was like watching one of those Attenborough documentaries where the herd of gazelles are going about their day when suddenly one of them cocks an ear at a rustle in the long grass and the camera cuts to a lioness crouched low, ready to pounce. That’s the state Mbappé had Ireland in for every one of the 90 minutes.
[ Frustration the overriding feeling as Ireland shoot themselves in the foot again ]
Even when Ireland got up the pitch, you could see they were on edge. Every time they set up for a corner or an attacking free kick, they waited to see where Mbappé stationed himself and then both Séamus Coleman and Matt Doherty both lined up in a column between him and the Ireland goal. When Doherty went off, Alan Browne got the job instead. Even as Ireland chased the game, Mbappé was never far from their thinking.
In the stadium, everyone could feel the ju-jitsu peril of an Ireland attack – the more of Stephen Kenny’s players there were in the France box, the fewer of them were going to be on hand if Mbappé got on a clearance and opened the throttle. Once all the finger-pointing and reshuffling of roles was done, it frequently meant six Ireland players in the box to nine French ones. Ireland had the ball but France had the threat.
Thing was, they dealt with it. Coleman lived by the canny defender’s credo – it doesn’t matter that you’re not as fast from A to B as long as you don’t start at A. Mbappé ran him twice and looked like Frankel whistling past a three-mile chaser both times but Coleman is long enough in the tooth to enjoy the mental challenge, if not the physical one.
The first one came after 23 minutes. Mbappé picked up possession in classic Mbappé territory – wide on the left, tight against the touchline, eyeing the space behind Coleman like it was a chocolate river and he was Augustus Gloop. He tapped it past the Ireland captain and hared off after it but Coleman pumped his legs just enough to stay in the fight. The pair of them made the touchline together and Coleman put it out for a corner. It was a decent result, in the grand tradition of victorious Ireland draws.
[ Brave and bristling Ireland have their hearts broken by Pavard’s stunner ]
The second came in the second half, in the identical spot in the other half of the pitch. This time, Chiedozie Ogbene wasn’t quite as close to Coleman to help out but when Mbappé skipped into the prairie behind the Ireland captain, Nathan Collins came over to dig him out. Everything Ireland planned for in terms of Mbappé was carried out to the letter.
The crowd were into it too. It’s not often that someone with claims on being the best player in the world arrives in Lansdowne for a meaningful game at the peak of his powers. Plenty of the 50,219 crowd happily counted Mbappé's presence as value for their ticket, delighted to say they saw him in the flesh. And they paid him the due respect too, jeering his every mistake, roaring Ireland’s every success against him.
They went home knowing that Ireland had done what they came to do to Kylian Mbappé. But gutted that one mistake took the good out of it.