Nathaniel Atkinson explains Kylian Mbappe 'eye opener' and response of his Australia teammates after French lesson

Hearts full-back Nathaniel Atkinson insists he is raring to go against Tunisia at the World Cup after explaining what went wrong against France and what he learned from going up against superstar striker Kylian Mbappe.

The 23-year-old right-back, one of three World Cup debutants to start in Australia’s back four along with Hearts teammate Kye Rowles, was tasked with marking Mbappe. Manager Graham Arnold defended Atkinson’s performance and the Tasmanian says he will learn from it.

“It’s a good experience, obviously it’s an eye opener,” Atkinson told Socceroos.com after the 4-1 defeat. “There’s a reason why he’s earning 200 million dollars a year and I am where I am.

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“It’s not hidden, how quick that guy is. You give him one step, and he’s gone. As a team, you can always come up with a plan. But sometimes if it’s one-v-one, he gets the better of you.

“It’s a learning curve, obviously. You can get your confidence up with getting a few challenges in, but there’s a reason why he’s probably in the top three players in the world. I don’t want to use that as an excuse – I want to verse the best players in the world. It’s good to come up against this calibre. You know what you have to work on and I know what to fix.”

Mbappe had a hand in three of France’s four goals in a dazzling display. For the goal that put France ahead, he and Adrien Rabiot pressed and striped Atkinson of possession after a heavy touch before Rabiot squared for Olivier Giroud to score. Atkinson took the blame.

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“I’ve played that scenario 50 times over and I could probably come up with 50 different solutions, but that’s football,” he said. “I’m disappointed, I’ll take full responsibility for the second goal, but it’s time to move on from that and the beauty is I’ve got a game in three days to fix that.

“That’s the beauty of the World Cup and just tournaments in general, anything can happen, you’ve just seen what the Saudis did against Argentina. We’ve come up against the world champions and there’s a reason for that – they’re a good footballing team and we can take confidence from the way that we played in that game early on.”

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Nathaniel Atkinson is controlled by an Australian coach after his team's 4-1 loss to France at Al Janoub Stadium. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty

Atkinson played for 85 minutes, with Rowles lasting the full 98 alongside Harry Souttar, brother of John and born in Aberdeen, in central defence. Hearts teammate Cammy Devlin was an unused sub. Australia have already dusted themselves down to regroup and prepare to bounce back in their second group match against Tunisia on Saturday.

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“We’ve got a good mix of experienced players and young players and we’ve obviously got a lot of players here who are at their first World Cup,” Atkinson added.

“When I came into the changing room my head was down, but the first people to come up to me was the experienced players who talked about their experiences. But they said the beauty is in three days time we’ve got another game."

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Hearts teammate Rowles empathised with Atkinson and Aziz Behich, who had his hands just as full with Ousmane Dembele on the other side of the pitch. “They’re obviously quality players but Aziz and Natty held a good account of themselves all game,” Rowles said. “It’s not a nice thing to have those two running at you for 90 minutes, but I thought they’d done well, just their quality shone through in the end.”

France forward Kylian Mbappe gave Australia full-back Nathaniel Atkinson a torrid night at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Picture: FRANCK FIFE/AFP