The French World Cup winning team of 1998 are the inspiration for this current France side, with Les Blues manager Didier Deschamps leading his team to the quarter finals of the World Cup, like he had done 16 years ago as a player in Lens.
That ’98 France side consisted of great players like Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Lilian Thuram, Didier Deschamps and Patrick Vieira. The 2014 side have an array of talent, young and old, throughout the side, with Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema and Patrice Evra the seasoned internationals, Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba looking to gain experience on the biggest stage in international football.
One particular youngster who has shown his capabilities for his club this season is Paul Pogba, Juventus’ midfield maestro, and is now the catalyst, alongside Yohan Cabaye and Karim Benzema for Les Blues this time around – compared to France’s trio of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira back in 1998.
Paul Pogba has been likened to former Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira. The way Pogba strolls around midfield is comparable to Vieira, who also spent time in Turin playing for Juventus. Pogba, however, played down links comparing himself to the great French midfielder, stating, back in 2013,
I’m happy to be compared to great players, but at this moment in time I am a nobody.
Vieira, speaking to France Football, seems to disagree, stating:
“He pushes forward more and therefore scores more goals. He is also better on a technical level and is certainly more talented than I was.”
Modesty is a characteristic not seen enough in modern football, especially from players with the talent that Paul Pogba has.
Pogba was instrumental in driving his team forward against Nigeria, who were surprisingly lacklustre after their opening three World Cup games. Pogba’s relationship with Blaise Matuidi is one of the most understated partnerships so far this World Cup. They take turns in pushing forward, as showed by the seven successful take-ons from Blaise Matuidi and the four successful take-ons from Paul Pogba – the top two players on the pitch; showing exactly the kind of mobility that many midfielders in this World Cup are lacking, a dynamism in midfield that Didier Deschamps prided himself on.
Apart from the all important goal that Paul Pogba scored to send France through to the quarter finals, he could have scored one of the most spectacular goals in the World Cup, if it hadn’t of been from Olivier Giroud disrupting Pogba in the box.
Pogba glided through midfield, played the ball to Mathieu Debuchy, dinking the ball to Pogba who then struck a volley at Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who pushed the volley for a corner. Giroud was in Pogba’s line of sight for the strike, who undoubtedly put Pogba off from hitting the volley in to a place where Enyeama couldn’t get to.
It can be argued Olivier Giroud stifled their play in yesterday’s 2-0 win against Nigeria, slowing counter-attacks down with too many touches, without being the aerial presence that he was against Switzerland and rarely troubled a fairly average Nigerian back four; it wasn’t until Antoine Griezmann came on and Karim Benzema was switched to a central position that France really looked like threatening Nigeria, and their excellent goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
According to the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app, the 21-year old was everywhere on the pitch, he was second only to Matuidi in terms of dribbles, second to Mathieu Valbuena (48/51 versus Pogba’s 46/57) in terms of successful passes, attempting 11 successful attacking third passes out of 20. Pogba recovered the ball a total of 11 times, leading that leaderboard for most ball recoveries and attempting three shots on goal, of which two were on target, resulting in the goal that sent France through to the last eight.
The 21-year old was awarded man of the match by FIFA (in partnership with Budweiser) and WhoScored.com. Rio Ferdinand praised the former Manchester United midfielder before the game and during half-time, stating that he was one of the best youngsters and players in general that he has trained with, and he wasn’t sure why United let him go.
Whilst Pogba dismisses the links between him and Vieira, it’s obvious to those who watch Paul Pogba that he will not be able to shrug the Vieira comparisons off if he manages to lead Les Blues all the way.