A masked Kylian Mbappe playing for France against Belgium in the last 16 at Euro 2024
A masked Kylian Mbappe playing for France against Belgium in the last 16 at Euro 2024 AFP

Kylian Mbappe leads France into Friday's Euro 2024 quarter-final against Portugal having yet to find his best form at the tournament after months of speculation about his club future and then the broken nose which overshadowed his team's opening game.

The 25-year-old will again sport a protective face mask on Friday in Hamburg, a necessity following the injury he suffered in the 1-0 win against Austria on June 17.

Mbappe admitted prior to Monday's last-16 victory against Belgium that he hates having to wear the mask and that it makes him feel like he is watching the tournament with virtual reality goggles on, rather than being an active participant.

Yet he is the leader of a France team that has reached the quarter-finals despite scoring only three goals in four matches, one his penalty in a 1-1 draw with Poland and the other two coming from own goals.

He and his team have had chances, but have not been taking them.

France have an Expected Goals (XG; a metric used to measure the quality of a chance created) of almost seven, bettered only by Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Mbappe's own XG is 2.54, with only Cristiano Ronaldo and Germany's Kai Havertz having a higher number.

It is a source of frustration for Mbappe that he has lit up the last two World Cups but has not enjoyed the same success at the Euros.

He starred as France became world champions in Russia in 2018 and again in Qatar in 2022, when he netted a hat-trick in their final defeat against Argentina.

The new Real Madrid signing has 12 World Cup goals, but his penalty against Poland is his only goal in seven appearances at the Euros.

Three years ago he failed to find the net before missing the crucial penalty in the shoot-out defeat by Switzerland in the last 16.

"My Euros didn't start like I wanted but I am here to help the team and I really want to have success with this team," Mbappe said just before the 1-0 victory against Belgium.

"The Euros is the only thing I have not won with the national team so I really want to win it."

France assistant coach Guy Stephan said on Wednesday that Mbappe had been "traumatised" by the collision with Austria's Kevin Danso which left him with the broken nose.

The fact that his final season at Paris Saint-Germain was often difficult may not have helped either.

He scored 44 goals, but Mbappe was also frozen out of the squad at the start of the campaign after telling the club he did not plan to extend his contract beyond this year.

His playing time was again reduced in the final three months of the season, once he had confirmed to PSG that he would be leaving.

Sources recently told AFP that Mbappe is still trying to get PSG to pay significant sums of money owed to him in wages.

Yet France will hope Mbappe finds extra motivation against Portugal as he comes up against his boyhood hero.

The recent completion of Mbappe's move to Madrid put an end to years of speculation about when he would sign for the Spanish giants, and his long-held desire to one day join them was in part down to Ronaldo.

He idolised Ronaldo growing up, and decorated his bedroom with posters of the Portuguese superstar.

Real attempted to sign Mbappe for the first time in December 2012, when he was approaching his 14th birthday.

He was invited to Madrid for a week, taken to a game and to the club's Valdebebas training ground where he met Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.

There is a famous picture of Ronaldo with his arm around the youngster, who only comes up to his hero's shoulder.

"He is a hero from my childhood and it was amazing to meet him when I visited Valdebebas," he once told Spanish sports daily Marca.

Now Mbappe is about to become the star in Madrid, where five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo was the main man for almost a decade.

But first he knows that in order to keep alive his own dream of winning the European Championship with France he will need to knock out Portugal, and in the process potentially bring an end to Ronaldo's remarkable international career.