Unlikely Hero Kolo Muani Propels France into Euro 2024 Quarterfinals Despite Mbappé’s Struggles

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In the heart of Düsseldorf, Germany, the world witnessed another disappointing and unremarkable match for French star player, Kylian Mbappé. It was yet another substandard outing for the French team at the European Championship. However, France’s Coach, Didier Deschamps, remains unperturbed. The reason? His team managed to enter the quarterfinals.

Against all odds, Les Bleus found victory, relying on the ninth own-goal scored in the 2024 Euro tournament to narrowly edge past Belgium with a 1-0 scoreline in the round of 16 showdown. Hopes were flying high, as the match promised much with two football titans, France (No. 2) and Belgium (No. 3) colliding in a game of high stakes. Alas, it fell short, and the solitary goal—largely due to fortune—ended up being apt.

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The tables turned in the 85th minute as Randal Kolo Muani, a second-half substitute, took everyone by surprise. He sprang into action, turning in the area, and launched a shot that ricocheted off Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen and looped over goalie Koen Casteels.

After the game, Kolo Muani spoke about his crucial touch, saying, “I was lucky enough to get my shot on target. It was blocked but it went in. We’re very, very happy and very, very proud.” Despite the jubilation, UEFA considered Kolo Muani’s shot an own-goal, becoming the latest in a tournament otherwise noted for them.

Interestingly, France accrued its second own-goal of the tournament, with another being a penalty by Mbappé, indicating that no French player has managed to score from open play thus far. Nonetheless, Coach Deschamps verbalized his confidence in the team’s scoring ability, stating, “Even if today that goal was enough to get us to the quarterfinals, we have the capability to score more.”

With the victory, France now waits for its next opponent to be decided between Portugal and Slovenia for a spot in the last eight on Friday.

Mbappé, despite wearing a protective mask for a broken nose he suffered in France’s opener against Austria, continued to disappoint with none of his five shots hitting the mark. The Belgian defense, aided by their creative dynamo, Kevin De Bruyne—now tasked with a deeper-lying, defensive role—effectively bottled up Mbappé’s offensive threat.

Contrarily, De Bruyne shined brighter in the last half-hour of the game after being allowed to venture forward. He created Belgium’s best chance, setting up Yannick Carrasco for a shot that was thwarted by France’s left back, Theo Hernandez.

Thereafter, Kolo Muani emerged as the unlikely hero—memories of his potentially game-winning shot that was saved in the 2022 World Cup Final against Argentina still fresh. This time, fortune favored him, proving pivotal in France’s progression.

Deschamps defended the team’s result-focused tactics saying they were “intelligent, playing the waiting game and not falling into their trap”.

The Belgian saga ended on a somber note, with the team returning home after what can only be described as a disheartening Euro 2024. However, it wasn’t just the defeat that stung; their own fans’ loud jeers following a nil-nil draw with Ukraine in the group stages still echoed. In the decisive game against France, protecting their goal was prioritized over aggressive ball-play, depriving them of much-needed scoring opportunities—a strategic gamble that ultimately backfired.

In the face of their demise, their coach Domenico Tedesco managed to mutter, “To go into detail tonight is difficult for me.” As the sun sets on one of the most anticipated games of the tournament, only time will tell if the French side can convert this challenging victory into enviable momentum.