Nathaniel Atkinson could be forgiven for being scarred for life from his nightmare outing against megastar Kylian Mbappe at the World Cup.
But the Socceroo was able to see the silver lining in being on the receiving end of the French forward’s masterclass in a 4-1 defeat on Wednesday (AEDT) – while giving a brutally honest assessment of the experience of tangling with the French star who is on a deal with PSG worth a reported $A886m over three years.
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Atkinson was given the nod over Fran Karacic at right back but had a night to forget at Al Janoub Stadium. His costly error in coughing up possession allowed France to take the lead late in the second half, but the 23-year-old struggled all night to handle the French, especially Mbappe, who was at his brilliant best and ran rings around Atkinson – and plenty of other Socceroos – with his pace and power.
“I have played that scenario 50 times over and I could probably come up with 50 different solutions,” Atkinson said.
“But that’s football. I am disappointed. I take full responsibility for the second goal.
“And it’s time to move on from that, because I have got a game in three days to fix it.”
Atkinson, who plays for Hearts in Scotland, admitted he needed his teammates to pick him up moments after the crushing performance, but was able to look at the night more philosophically when talking to Australian media.
“It’s an eye-opener,” Atkinson said. “And there’s a reason why he’s earning $200 million a year and I am where I am.
“… It’s just the physicality of the guy. Give him one step and he’s gone.
“As a team you can always come up with a plan and sometimes when it’s one v one, he gets the better of you. It’s a learning curve.”
“… You can get your confidence up by getting a few challenges in, but there’s a reason he’s one of the top three players in the world. But that’s not an excuse. I want to play the best players in the world.”
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“We’ve got a good mix of experienced players and young players. When I came into the change room my head was down, the first ones to come up to me were the experienced players. They said the beauty is in three days time we’ve got another game.”
Atkinson received words of supports from Graham Arnold, who suggested others had fared worse against players of Mbappe’s calibire.
“The kid actually did decently well. He did his best against one of the best players in the world,” Arnold said.
“Especially in the first half we had (Mathew) Leckie and Jackson Irvine to help him, that was the plan – when Mbappe got the ball, the three of them got out there and helped. But how do you stop someone so quick? It’s very difficult. It’s a great lesson for the kid. He’ll move on from it.”
Fellow defender Aziz Behich added: “Look, this is football. He’ll be alright. We’ve got high energy around our camp we’ll make sure he brushes that off and his head’s on for the Tunisia game.”
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