Two months after suffering World Cup final heartbreak with France, Eintracht Frankfurt striker Randal Kolo Muani is driving his club's shot at a second-successive European crown. Last year's Europa League winner qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in its history and has reached the round of 16, thanks in no small part to Kolo Muani's form.
On Tuesday, Frankfurt hosts Italian team Napoli, which boasts an 18-point lead atop the Serie A standings and is one of the best-performing clubs in Europe. Napoli is led by 24-year-old Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, who has scored 19 goals in all competitions this season.
For his part, Kolo Muani has 15 goals in 30 games played in 2022-23. The star forward arrived at Frankfurt on a free transfer from French club Nantes in the summer, just after the German club's stunning run to the Europa League title — Eintracht's first European title in 40 years.
The French striker's knack for important goals — he scored the winner in Frankfurt's 2-1 group stage victories over Marseille and Sporting Lisbon — belies the criticism he received after France's loss to Argentina in the World Cup final in December. Despite winning the penalty kick that sparked France's revival in the final, and converting from the spot in the shootout, much of the focus has centered on Kolo Muani's failure to get the ball past Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez's outstretched leg with just seconds remaining.
'I still watch it'
Speaking with beIN Sports in early February, Kolo Muani re-lived the moment, admitting "I still watch it — I know it off by heart."
Watching the tape showed Kolo Muani "there were other options" including an unmarked "Kylian Mbappe. But in the moment, I didn't see him."
"It's too late" the 24-year-old forward said. "It still sticks in my throat, and it'll be there for life."
Kolo Muani has, however, responded in the best possible fashion on the field with seven goals since returning from the World Cup. Speaking after scoring the game-sealing goal in Saturday's 2-0 home win over Werder Bremen, Kolo Muani credited a strong team environment for his rich vein of form.
"There is no personal secret. The mood in the team is simply very good [and] we are rewarding ourselves together" Kolo Muani told German TV. "I'll keep working for the team to make us successful."
'Everything at stake'
Kolo Muani may still think about Doha, but the experience has not dampened his enthusiasm for big occasions.
Asked about the approach to play in important games at the World Cup and in the Champions League, Kolo Muani said, "it means giving everything. It's a dream for every soccer player to play games like this, where everything is at stake. Now come the important weeks where we have to be present."
Eintracht manager Oliver Glasner praised his starting striker, saying, "he's a great kid who always listens and tries to improve. He made some simple mistakes, but he kept coming back. The important thing for him is to keep going. You can see there is still room for improvement in some areas."
© Agence France-Presse