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MAVERICK SPORT 168

Kings of football: Are Mbappe and Haaland worthy successors to the throne?

Kings of football: Are Mbappe and Haaland worthy successors to the throne?
Dortmund's Erling Haaland celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and TSG Hoffenheim in Dortmund, Germany, on 13 February 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Martin Meissner / POOL)

When Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick to lead Paris Saint-Germain to a comprehensive 4-1 first leg victory over Messi’s Barcelona, then Erling Haaland scored a brace to see Borussia Dortmund edge Sevilla 3-2, there was a hint that the two forwards were ready to take the baton.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

The first bit of Uefa Champions League action in two months hinted at a changing of the guard in football.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the game for almost 15 years, running side by side and pushing each other to astronomical heights.

However, when Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick to lead Paris Saint-Germain to a comprehensive 4-1 first leg victory over Messi’s Barcelona, then Erling Haaland scored a brace to see Borussia Dortmund edge Sevilla 3-2, there was a hint that the two forwards were ready to take the baton.

“We all need to enjoy Kylian because PSG have a player who will be of the class of Leo and Cristiano,” said Barca forward Antoine Griezman after his side’s defeat.

Similar has been said about Haaland, who seems to score for fun. The 20-year-old has managed to score 18 goals in just 13 Champions League matches. With that tally, he is now just one goal away from Mbappe’s record of being the quickest player to net 19 or more goals in the continental competition before the age of 21.

Just as Ronaldo and Messi have fed off each other’s brilliance during their reign as the kings of world football, it seems the same is true of the two successors to the throne.

Paris Saint Germain’s Kylian Mbappe reacts during the French soccer Ligue 1 match between PSG and Nimes Olympique at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, on 3 February 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / YOAN VALAT)

“I love the Champions League and when I saw Mbappe score the hat-trick yesterday I got free motivation, so thanks to him. He scored some nice goals and I got a good boost from him,” said Haaland after receiving his man of the match award.

Although the status of Ronaldo and Messi is firmly secured – they scored a total of 253 Champions League goals between them – Mbappe and Haaland are carving their own path to greatness. Since the 2019/2020 season the duo has scored 28 Champions League goals to Messi and Ronaldo’s 15.

Whether they surpass whatever total the Portuguese and Argentine greats end up with remains to be seen, but what is certain is that should they continue on their current trajectory, they will come very close.

As for the results on the pitch, after losing by such a hefty margin at home, Barcelona are all but out of the competition. Of course, stranger things have happened – like when Barcelona came from a 4-0 deficit in their first leg encounter against PSG to win 6-1 back in 2016/2017.

Considering all the struggles that the Catalans have faced this season, on and off the field, it is unlikely that a similar situation will play out, and the Parisians will be confident of sealing progress to the quarterfinals.

As for Haaland’s Dortmund, their opponent Sevilla managed to score two crucial away goals, so the tie still hangs in the balance. But as long as they have the prowess of Haaland, they will be confident of progressing as well.

Liverpool used the Champions League as a tonic for all the woes they have faced in their botched Premier League title defence. The Reds ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against last season’s semifinalists RB Leipzig in the competition.

Goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane put the English champions in firm control going into the second leg in just under three weeks’ time.

“It was a game we wanted, it was a game we needed,” manager Jürgen Klopp told BT Sport after the game. “Leipzig can be a real monster. The way they play in the Bundesliga they overrun teams, they can be really physical in everything and tonight [Tuesday] we controlled them in an exceptional way.”

Stunned

Italian champions Juventus, who have struggled so far in the title defence and are still finding their bearings under novice manager Andrea Pirlo, were stunned 2-1 by Porto in the sides’ first leg encounter in Portugal.

The Italian giants have been yearning for European success since they last tasted it in 1996. This is one of the motivating factors for them splashing €100-million (R1.77-billion) on the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in 2018.

So far, that gamble has failed to pay off, with the Old Lady failing to navigate further than the quarterfinals since Ronaldo arrived in Turin two-and-a-half seasons ago. This after reaching two finals in three seasons prior to his arrival.

Of course, Juve scored an away goal, which might prove decisive in the second leg, but Porto’s confidence will be lifted by the victory.

As for Ronaldo, who hates losing, he will be fired up and will hope to be the focal point of a turnaround result. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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