Brasilia: Paul Pogba’s goalscoring display in France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria showcased how talented the young midfielder is, with coach Didier Deschamps hoping to see those skills on a more regular basis.
The Juventus player headed France in front in the 79th minute of their World Cup last-16 clash at the Brasilia National Stadium on Monday to cap a Man of the Match display after reacting well to being dropped earlier in the tournament.
The 21-year-old had been fortunate to escape a red card in the 3-0 opening Group E win over Honduras and subsequently lost his place in the side for the 5-2 demolition of Switzerland.
He returned against Ecuador but another indifferent performance put his starting place in jeopardy against the Nigerians.
Deschamps, though, kept faith and was duly rewarded as Pogba continued to drive forward from midfield on Monday, almost scoring a brilliant volley in the first half before bagging the crucial opener in the second.
“He showed his potential today,” Deschamps said. “Maybe he played a bit more simply today and all the credit is due to him.
“I did not doubt his ability and he played a remarkable match. I hope he can do it on a regular basis now.”
Overwhelmed with relief at finally scoring his first goal of the tournament, Pogba shed a tear after the final whistle before being mobbed by his teammates.
“I was Man of the Match today, but if I could give it to all the players I would. It’s because of them that we won,” he said. “We know we’re capable of playing our best and playing our worst, but today we were good. We are the French national team and we are not afraid of anyone.”
Pogba’s talents have never been in question.
He oozes class and is the complete box-to-box midfielder, compared routinely with former France great Patrick Vieira.
But while Vieira was able to churn out an endless run of great displays, the same can’t be said of Pogba — yet.
Fans of Juventus may disagree, though, as he has quickly forced himself into the starting line-up of the Italian champions after leaving Manchester United in 2012.
That transfer away from England saw the Frenchman described as “the one Alex Ferguson should not have let go”.
The move to Italy also brought questions, with Pogba outspoken in his criticism of former United manager Ferguson for not giving him a starting berth and the chance to shine.
Firing out criticism often draws it in return and the young midfielder has seen plenty, especially when pundits believe he isn’t performing at the level he should.
“He is young. I think it’s normal he gets criticised, it’s part of a top player’s life,” Deschamps said. “I think it will toughen him up a bit.”
Fellow-midfielder Blaise Matuidi thinks Pogba had been putting too much pressure on himself to live up to pre-World Cup hype touting him as one of the potential stars of the tournament.
“I hope this goal releases him, but today he gave the best possible answer. He also puts himself under pressure, which he perhaps shouldn’t because he’s only 21,” Matuidi said.
“Of course, we need his talent and he gives us a lot, but he remains a young player and he's allowed to make mistakes.”
Pogba hailed his crucial goal as one of the best moments of his life. “I have no words to describe this feeling. The whole country is behind us and scoring that goal really liberated us. I am so happy for the team and all of France.
“To score a goal for your country, especially in such an important game as this, to get into the last eight of the World Cup, is one of the best moments of my life.”