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France in dreamland after unforgettable World Cup win over Argentina

France's Kylian Mbappe outshone Lionel Messi in the round of 16 as France beat Argentina 4-3 in episode 18 of Project Russia.

In a corner of the jubilant France dressing room in the Kazan Arena, Didier Deschamps grabs Benjamin Pavard, hugs him and tells him: "You remind me of Lilian Thuram in 1998!"

The young defender, 22 years old, not even 10 caps yet, is moved to tears.

Twenty years ago, Thuram, the centre-half turned right-back who had never scored for France, netted twice in the World Cup semifinal against Croatia. Pavard, Stuttgart's centre-half, is also a makeshift right-back for Les Bleus, and his stunning goal, maybe the best of the tournament so far, was as unexpected and as unprecedented as Thuram's brace all those years ago.

Pavard is in dreamland like the rest of the squad. The dressing room looks like a giant nightclub. The music is loud; everybody is dancing, singing, chatting. The atmosphere is amazing. Before the celebrations and the craziness started, Deschamps, as he always does, speaks first.

"I am proud of you. The most important is the qualification, but the way you did it is remarkable," France's manager tells his players. "I liked your team spirit. You never gave up, you kept fighting."

He takes the time to shake each of their hands and have a personal word with every one of them. Since he took over in the summer of 2012, this is -- along with the win against Germany in the Euro 2016 semifinal -- one of his best moments.

Deschamps is beaming. In his postmatch news conference, he has a little dig at some of the French journalists for criticising him before the game. Kylian Mbappe doesn't like the critics, either. He didn't like being criticised after the 2-1 opening win against Australia. It feels almost like another life. Mbappe is the star of the show now.

His performance against Leo Messi and Argentina was breathtaking, splendid. He cannot believe his ears when he is told about Pele's tweet about him, congratulating him for being the first teenager since the king himself back in 1958 to score twice in a World Cup game.

In the dressing room, Paul Pogba comes to congratulate him. Everybody follows. Ousmane Dembele, as usual, is sat next to him. On the other side, it is even wilder. You have Presnel Kimpembe, Antoine Griezmann, Pogba and Benjamin Mendy, all sat next to each other, celebrating. Pogba is on fire!

Once at the airport, the private plane that takes Les Bleus back to Moscow is transformed into a giant karaoke. The tune of the night is "Siguelo Bailando" by Ozuna, the Puerto Rican reggaeton and Latin trap singer. The French shout the words, they dance. Kimpembe is carrying the big portable speaker. French rapper Naza's song "MMM," which has a football theme, is another one that the whole team scream on.


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Right now, no one is thinking about the quarterfinals. Everyone wants to enjoy this moment. Portugal-Uruguay is being played while the French are in the sky. So it is only when they land in Moscow that they learn about the South Americans' victory and Edinson Cavani's injury.

The moment makes Deschamps smile. Against Argentina, he went past the mark of most matches as France head coach, overtaking Raymond Domenech's record of 79 between 2004 and 2010. And Deschamps remembers that his first game in charge was against Uruguay and Oscar Tabarez, back in August 2012 in Le Havre in a friendly. Hugo Lloris and Olivier Giroud are the only two players left in the French squad who started that night. Steve Mandanda, Raphael Varane and Blaise Matuidi stayed on the bench. It finished 0-0 then. On Friday, at least, there will have to be a winner.

It will also be a Barcelona reunion between Luis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti; an Atletico Madrid reunion between Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez and Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez; a Juventus reunion between Matuidi (who will be suspended for the quarterfinal, though) and Rodrigo Betancur; and a PSG reunion between Cavani (if he is able to play) and Mbappe.

Back at their camp base near Moscow, Les Bleus are welcomed by the staff of the hotel, waving flags with La Marseillaise blaring from the sound system.

It is a night that the French players, the staff and all the fans will never forget. One that will go down in history with the other glorious World Cup moments France have had through the years. The World Cup is far from being over. It has actually just started for them.

Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.

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