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Mbappe doing a Maradona is a very real fear


As you might expect from a country with a bottomless wallet, Qatar’s Olympic and Sports Museum in Doha houses a staggering array of sporting treasures. There’s Usain Bolt’s spikes, Michael Jordan’s trainers, the leotard Nadia Comaneci wore for her perfect ten routine in Montreal – even the Jamaican bobsleigh from Calgary.

For an English visitor at least there is one item that really stops you in your tracks – Diego’s Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ jersey.  It was bought for £7.1m at auction earlier this year after Steve Hodge, who swapped shirts with Maradona after the match at the Azteca Stadium, put it up for sale.

Thirty-six years on, it hangs there in its glass case like a ghostly taunt from history. There is no reference in the glowing caption accompanying it to the hand-ball punch past Peter Shilton. Only the ‘other’ goal – the incredible slaloming run from his own half that has to go down as one of the greatest of all time.

The final score that day in the World Cup quarterfinal was England 1, Argentina 2 but it might have been more accurately written as England 1, Maradona 2. He won that game on his own that day. He bent a team sport to his will.

Only the special ones have this power. Jordan did it for the Chicago Bulls, Tom Brady for the Patriots, Jonah Lomu for the All Blacks…

They don’t always do it – the nature of team sport is that the collective is more important the majority of the time – but these alpha individuals are hardwired with the circuitry to transcend the usual rules. Sometimes it is because of extreme physical gifts, sometimes a savant-like ability to read the complex, evolving pictures in front of them, often both, but the picture created in these moments is of one player defined in the sharpest clarity while the rest melt away around them.

They seem to be operating in four dimensions while the rest make do with three. While no one else on that field in Mexico City in 1986 would have done what Maradona did for his first goal, no one on it could have done what he did for his second. He destroyed England’s world.

On Saturday evening England will be confronted by another individual with the same potential to turn a World Cup quarterfinal into his own personal plaything. Kylian Mbappe has shown at this tournament that he is the finest player of his generation. Off the planet, as France’s assistant coach Guy Stephan put it this week.

England have a plan, they say, that has been two years in the making to try to contain him. That is all very well but the shapeshifters can take these sorts of plans and rip them to shreds. They look at the cages built for them and cannot see the bars.

Cristiano Ronaldo, in his pomp, was undefendable; Lionel Messi still sometimes is. Mbappe is their natural successor. The football at this World Cup has been terrific from the group stage drama to the cream rising to the top in the Round of 16 but over the course of the tournament one player has stood out.

France are more than Mbappe but he is Qatar ‘22’s game changer. One drop of the shoulder and savage swing of the right foot and England’s World Cup dream could be over. Will it be Mbappe’s jersey that hangs alongside Maradona’s in the museum? That is the very real fear.

Fury vs Chisora was a punishing watch

At its best boxing can be a thrilling, visceral spectacle. At its worst it is Tyson Fury versus Derek Chisora. The pummelling Chisora took in the one-sided non-contest was disquieting. He was not knocked out – he wasn’t even knocked down – but the cumulative punishment he took was ugly.

Fury, a good friend of Chisora’s, seemed to be waiting and hoping for the referee or his opponent’s corner to put a stop to it but the mismatch should never have happened in the first place.  Chisora got his payday and was able to walk away but you can only hope for his sake there isn’t a price to pay health-wise down the line.

Sport on radio will stand the Test of time

Sport on the radio events rarely gets more satisfying than a Test match reaching a gripping fifth-day conclusion.

Thanks to the breakneck speed of their batting and Ben Stokes’s gambler’s declaration England secured a famous victory after it was a race against time which the Test Match Special illuminated superbly.

The BBC’s coverage has been criticised for being out of step with cricket’s changing times but Jonathan Agnew’s scene-setting as the sun dipped in Rawalpindi and the umpires fiddled with their light meters was exquisite. 

Borthwick won’t follow Eddie’s guide

Does the finish for Eddie Jones as England coach mean the finishers are finished? Steve Borthwick, solid Cumbrian that he is, will surely restore the replacements.



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