Written by Staff Writer by Ali Papamichael, CNN
In a thrilling second leg clash, France needed a late goal to overcome Belgium 2-1 and book its spot in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. It did so thanks to Kylian Mbappe, who has emerged as the saviour of Les Bleus, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-2 second leg win over Belgium in Paris.
Before kickoff, it was FIFA’s controversial showpiece show, the FIFA Club World Cup, which all but confirmed the destination of Qatar.
Although the football world couldn’t have been asked for a more fitting opening ceremony. The songs of legendary legends, including Sergio Aguero’s ‘Cruel’, were performed as “Conquistador” by a group of nine European superpowers including Spain, England, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, Holland and Denmark, with Gianni Infantino heralding “the greatest Champions League night ever.”
To honor them, former European Champions United States welcomed former winners from the Japan-Korea-Japan (J-KL) Football Association (J-KFA) with a rendition of “Little Girl Blue” by Barbra Streisand. FIFA president Infantino kicked off the festivities with a flourish, leading the teams onto the field to the sounds of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before pulling a Charlie Chaplin and tapping his shoe on the ground. The U.S. kicked off the ceremonial song, capping off a city-wide branding campaign, dubbed “Go United,” as it looks to get people of the city cheering for soccer.
On the field, the night belonged to Mbappe — the youngest ever winner of the Ballon d’Or and who was the breakout star of the French squad in 2018.
While the starting XI of Belgian players featured a number of established players, the starting 11 for France included no less than four uncapped players. Nevertheless, all five of the non-contracted players gave a creditable show.
Mohamed Salah returns to the starting XI for Liverpool following his injuries suffered in the World Cup final. His former Liverpool teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also made the squad despite knee injuries that kept him out for three months.
“It’s an honour to represent your country, it’s the biggest honor I could ever have,” Salah said. “The situation I was in before, playing like a semi-professional player and then falling ill on a holiday, it was never happening to me.”