France vs Germany World Cup 2014 preview: Princely Paul Pogba starting to show the winning qualities of Patrick Vieira

The Juventus player got the breakthrough in the win over Nigeria

Brasilia

Last week he was facing calls to be dropped. This week, Paul Pogba is once again being cast in the mould of Patrick Vieira after helping to guide France into the World Cup quarter-finals.

This is the polarising effect the 21-year-old has on anyone who encounters him: either he is a lazy, ill-tempered character incapable of consistency at the highest level, or he is one of the most promising midfield talents to emerge anywhere in the world.

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Pogba endured criticism in France after an uninspiring contribution to Les Bleus’ navigation through Group E. He was fortunate only to receive a yellow card for reacting badly to provocation from Wilson Palacios in their opening game against Honduras and was substituted after an hour for his own protection.

After he was subsequently dropped for their 5-2 win over Switzerland, Pogba returned for the goalless draw against Ecuador but found his  decision-making and profligacy in possession condemned by several pundits, including the 1998 World Cup-winning defender Bixente Lizarazu, who claimed Newcastle United’s Moussa Sissoko was a more “efficient” alternative.

 

Pogba’s notoriety in England stems from his refusal to stay at Manchester United, claiming he was “disgusted” by Sir Alex Ferguson’s treatment of him, particularly when opting to play Rafael da Silva and Park Ji-sung as a makeshift central pairing in a Premier League game against Blackburn in late 2011.

Pogba was an unused substitute as United lost  3-2 at Old Trafford and his relationship with Ferguson never recovered as he turned down a new contract and moved to Juventus the next summer on a free transfer.

Paul Pogba celebrates his goal Paul Pogba celebrates his goal  

He has since become a key figure in the Italian side, starting in 33 of Juve’s 38 league games as they won the Serie A title by 17 points last season.

He produced one of his most influential displays yet for France in scoring the opening goal and earning the man-of-the-match award in Monday’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

“He deserves to be man of the match and to score because he is a very good footballer,” said fellow France midfielder Yohan Cabaye.

“He keeps his confidence even though he has been getting a lot of criticism but he stays relaxed, he knows the team is with him, he showed what he can do on the pitch and it is the best way to give a response to those who criticise him.

“Fortunately for us he is like Vieira. He is very important for the team, dynamic, and we just enjoy playing together with him. That unity is the best way for us to progress as far as we can.”

Patrick Vieira was in the all conquering French squads of 1998 and 2000 Patrick Vieira was in the all conquering French squads of 1998 and 2000  

Vieira, who won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 and 107 caps for France, claimed recently in his Sunday Times column that Pogba “could become one of the best in the world” and that “we have similar power in possession… but in his head he is more attacking than I ever was.”

Amid the contrasting declarations on his game, Pogba insists he is doing his best to focus on the matter at hand: Friday’s quarter-final against Germany at the Maracana.

“I play for the team, for France,” he said. “I’m very happy with the result. I’m very proud, it was one of the biggest evenings of my career but the victory is more important than the goal. Has some of the criticism been too hard? I don’t know. I just try to concentrate on the pitch, to do my work, to do my bit.”

Staying focused is France’s mantra given past controversies and coach Didier Deschamps’ desire to keep expectations at a minimum.

“We can say we are in the last eight and that is good but we have to stay humble and not arrogant,” said Cabaye. “If we start to play more easier and relaxed we are going to be getting back to France straightaway, so we are confident but focused and we want to stay for as long as possible in Brazil.”

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