Sharp-shooter Balogun catching the eye at Reims this season

PARIS (AP) — Kylian Mbappé's twice-missed penalty for Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night didn't change the result of that game, but it did allow Folarin Balogun to move past him in the league's scoring charts.

While Mbappé is a renowned name in soccer circles and well beyond, the 21-year-old Balogun is just starting to make a name for himself in France through his performances with modest Reims.

His hat trick in a 4-2 win against Lorient on Wednesday took him to 14 league goals this season, one more than Mbappé.

Last weekend, Balogun impressed throughout a 1-1 draw at PSG, netting the equalizer deep into stoppage time after an expertly-timed run and ruthless finish.

Before that game, Balogun was given a pep talk by France great Thierry Henry, who was at Parc des Princes in his role as a commentator for the match broadcaster.

So after his 96th-minute equalizer, Balogun stood with one hand on his hip and one arm on the corner flag, to imitate one of Henry's famed scoring celebrations.

“Spoke to Titi (Thierry) before the game! Only right I show my respect," Balogun posted on Twitter, along with a photo of Henry's goal celebration.

There's something else linking them: Arsenal.

Balogun is on loan from the London-based team where Henry earned his reputation as one of the Premier League's greatest players. Henry was the Premier League's top scorer four times and is Arsenal's all-time leading marksman with 228 goals in all competitions.

Henry had left by the time Balogun joined Arsenal's academy at the age of 8. Balogun signed as a professional in 2019. But despite signing a new contract in 2021, opportunities were limited and he played only 10 games overall, scoring twice in the Europa League, before joining Reims on loan last August.

It has taken the New-York born Englishman just a few months to become the key player at Reims and the team's unbeaten 13-game run is in large part thanks to him.

After rescuing a point against PSG, he hauled his team back from 2-0 down at home to Lorient. His first goal was a crisply-struck penalty down the middle, the second a neat right-foot volley from close range and the third a goal that Henry would have been proud of.

As the ball drifted over the defense, Balogun timed his run perfectly to meet it on the left of the penalty area before hitting a first-time, left-foot volley into the right corner without breaking stride.

“It's magnificent, he surprises me every day. The pass was perfect but he was able to meet it with the inside of his foot and find the opposite corner," Reims coach Will Still said. “Hats off to him, for that was his first hat trick. It shows the striker he is, but also shows the personality he has.”

Balogun has a long way to go before getting close to the level of Henry or Mbappé — who in December became only the second player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.

Mbappé's 196 goals for PSG include nine hat tricks and one quadruple for PSG. Last month he became the first PSG player to score five in one game. He needs only five more to break Edinson Cavani's PSG record of 200 goals.

But Mbappé will not add to his tally this weekend against Toulouse, after picking up a left-thigh injury on Wednesday against Montpellier. He is expected to be sidelined for three weeks.

Balogun, meanwhile, will have his sights on more goals when Reims travels to play 19th-place Auxerre on Sunday.

Auxerre has conceded 46 goals in 21 matches for the second-highest tally in the league and the Burgundy-based side has lost its past seven games.


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