Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Kylian Mbappé felt like he was in a virtual reality game when playing in a mask to protect his broken nose at the European Championship.

The France star was smiling while telling the story Sunday on the eve of facing Belgium in the round of 16.

But clearly he does not enjoy playing his role as the masked man of Euro 2024 — “an absolute horror,” he said.

“I had the impression in the first game that I was playing in 3D,” Mbappé told reporters, putting his hands to the sides of his head and mimicking wearing a VR headset.

“I saw people but I had the feeling it was not me that was playing,” he said of his comeback in a 1-1 draw against Poland on Tuesday.

Mbappé’s nose was broken in an accidental collision with an Austria defender’s shoulder during a 1-0 win for France in its opening game on June 17.

Without its captain and key goalscoring threat, France drew 0-0 with the Netherlands and on his masked return he played tentatively though scored with a penalty in a second straight draw.

“It’s really difficult. It limits the vision, the sweat stays blocked so you have to keep lifting it to flow out,” Mbappé said. “As soon as I can take it off, I will. It’s annoying, it’s annoying, it’s annoying.”

“Now, I don’t have a choice, I can’t play without. So I have to stay thank you to the mask,” he said.

Those two draws dropped France to second place in Group D — won by Austria — and sent Les Bleus into the top half of the draw that few expected.

Belgium also unexpectedly landed in the top half, by finishing runner-up in a group to Romania after a 0-0 draw with Ukraine as boos rained down from its fans.

It set up a rematch of a semifinal at the 2018 World Cup that France won 1-0 six years ago en route to Mbappé’s star role in the final.

The winner on Monday in Duesseldorf will find a difficult path to the final. Portugal, which plays Slovenia on Monday, is potentially waiting in the quarterfinals, then Germany and Spain are possible semifinal opponents.

“The teams that are considered to be the big nations on paper, we’re doing everything we can to stay in it,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “But actually it’s something that’s quite intense, highly, highly intense.”

Deschamps acknowledged his team has not been scoring, but he at least has his biggest threat back.

“Physically, I feel good,” Mbappé said. “I’m ready to sacrifice myself for the team.”

By Joy

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