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From a reject to a hero in the semi-finals at Qatar 2022: Kolo Muani’s lucky breaks underline a feel-good story

A few steps, a sprint, excellent positioning and then… a simple tap-in. It was all that Randal Kolo Muani needed to write history at the FIFA World Cup, becoming a scorer in a semi-final at the world football flagship competition. In total, it took only 44 seconds since he entered the pitch before scoring France’s second goal in the 2-0 win that lifted “Les Bleus” to the second consecutive final in the competition.

And to think that the 24-year-old striker would not have been here, were it not an injury for Christopher Nkunku, the RB Leipzig player who suffered a serious blow during one of the first France training before Qatar 2022.

But Nkunku’s misfortune was Kolo Muani’s win and he took it with both hands, delivering one of the easiest goals in his career to help France progress to the final at Qatar 2022, a simple tap-in that will probably change the striker’s life.

Hailing from a Congolese family, with both his parents of African descent, Kolo Muani was born in Bondy, a Paris suburb. Maybe one has heard about this small place which is truly a hotbed for talent in France, as Kylian Mbappe also played for AS Bondy in his early years, before moving on to AS Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain.

He finally arrived at Nantes, one of the clubs that rely hugely on young talent in 2015 and has never looked back since that moment. He was loaned to Boulogne, in the third league, where he slowly started making his mark aged 18 years old, scoring three times in 14 matches.

Yet his ascension has been fast, becoming key for Nantes in the 2021/22 season in the Ligue 1, where he scored 12 times in 36 matches, finishing tenth in the top goal scorer list, tied with stalwarts like Dmitri Payet. Yet with his contract ending, Kolo Muani felt like he needed a new challenge.

This is why he chose to play at Eintracht Frankfurt, the reigning champions of the UEFA Europa League, a German side that had a berth for the UEFA Champions League, where Kolo Muani could have proven his worth between the top players in the world.

“It’s exactly what I wanted to do, to discover a new league, a new lifestyle, a new environment. Things are still a bit complicated in terms of the language, but I’m taking lessons twice a week and in the dressing room we can get by with English,” Kolo Muani told “L’Equipe” in October, after settling in the Bundesliga.

There he made his mark not by necessarily scoring goals, he has eight in 23 matches in all competitions, but as a provider, leading the assists charts with nine passes that were converted in goals, having a direct hand in 14 of Frankfurt’s goals this season.

“Of course, I prefer to score. It’s more fun for me scoring goals than setting them up. But obviously I’ll lay it off when someone is better placed in a situation. It gives me great joy when I can play in my teammates and they score,” said Kolo Muani for German tv station Sport1.

His excellent games made him an interesting proposition for France, especially as Didier Deschamps eyed a change of guard in the last years in attack, with aging strikers like Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud featuring prominently in the team.

When he heard that he was called up for the first time in September 2022, for the UEFA Nations League matches, Kolo Muani could simply not believe what Deschamps was saying.

“I heard my name, and I was shocked. I was so shocked. I started to smile. I was on the phone with my brother and I told him I’ll call you later, I’m going to call up dad. My mother was crying, insanely proud. It’s just immense pride, I don’t know how to explain it,” said Kolo Muani.

It was a moment when the France striker felt like it was all worth it. Because his career has not been easy. Rejected by Rennes before coming to Nantes, Kolo Muani tried his luck in Italy, in the second and third leagues. He was also rejected.

“My father is serious about school. He told me that I had to go back because school was starting again. I said ‘no, I don’t want to go back’. He had bought me a train ticket for the next day at 10 a.m. I cried all night, end of the dream. I said to myself: ‘What am I going to do?’ I’m going back to school. Football , it was over,” said the striker.

Eventually, Nantes picked him up and it all went from there. In only six years, Kolo Muani rose from the status of a player rejected in the lower leagues in Italy to a scorer in a semi-final of the FIFA World Cup.

Football can throw some surprises, but this one is truly one that is hard to forget.

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