No walk is more lonely than the saunter back to your teammates after missing the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout.
Kylian Mbappe knows this only too well.
After a flawless nine penalties he stepped up to take French’s fifth spot kick in their Euro 2020 round of 16 tie against Switzerland. Stood between the sticks was Yann Sommer, whose last penalty save was back in November 2020.
Waiting no time at all after the whistle to take his shot, Mbappe’s run up telegraphed his intentions with Sommer making an easy stop to his right. After a brief wait to decide whether the Swiss stopper had come off his line before the ball was struck, the reality became clear. France were out of the European Championships and their star man’s error was the reason why.
Many were quick to jump on the young man’s back after the game, suggesting that the failure of some of his teammates to console him hinted at an attitude problem.
Whatever the truth in these rumours, the missed penalty capped off an underwhelming tournament for Mbappe. Stats rarely tell the whole story but still, zero goals for one of the best forwards in the world makes for grim reading. It is not like Mbappe did not have chances to score either.
During his four games at the competition he attempted 14 shots worth an accumulated 2.26 xG. For the period ending with the Switzerland game, only England skipper Harry Kane was close to underforming their expected goals this dramatically.
Mbappe’s finishing has not been the only thing off in this tournament. The Paris Saint-Germain man has, in truth, only ever performed in limited bursts. When isolating his opposite number one on one, he looked unplayable. However, his opportunities to do this have got less frequent as the tournament has progressed.
Against Switzerland he cut a largely withdrawn figure. With space in behind limited, he was forced into build-up play in deeper positions for the most part. His partnership with Benzema – a real bone of contention for much of the French media – did not click either, echoing the trend of the tournament.
There is an argument to be made that France might have fared better had Didier Deschamps not attempted to shoehorn both players into a congested frontline all tournament long. Yet, it is hard to shake the feeling that Mbappe’s underperformance was a significant reason for to the pair’s failings.
Against Switzerland he may have earned an assist for one of Benzema’s goals, but his strike partner did all of the work, maneuvering Mbappe’s misplaced pass into position with a miraculous first touch.
It was a similar story for his other “assist” of the competition. This came courtesy of a bizarre refereeing decision, with France awarded a penalty for Nelson Semedo’s light shoulder barge on Mbappe inside the box.
Therefore, he leaves the tournament with very few contributions of note – something that would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the month.
Mbappe entered Euro 2020 in the form of his young life. Despite PSG’s horrific failure to lift the Ligue 1 title, he enjoyed a fine personal season. During the 2020/2021 campaign he managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 games.
This included a scintillating hat-trick at the Nou Camp in the Champions League round of 16. After this particular performance, people were quick to proclaim Mbappe and Erling Haaland as the natural successors to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
While Mbappe clearly has the talent to ensure this is the road he takes over the coming decade, his disastrous Euro 2020 represents a significant bump in the road – perhaps the most challenging of his career so far.
Next season is now a massive one for the forward. To silence his doubters and put a marker down for his rivals in the Ballon d’Or race, another strong club campaign with increased silverware is needed.
Do that and his chastening Euro 2020 experience will be remembered as nothing more than a footnote in his hero’s journey.