Didier Deschamps saw it all in advance. In a midfield crowded like a rush-hour station against Switzerland, the France coach decided to drop gifted youngster Paul Pogba for the lower-key, less spectacular qualities of Moussa Sissoko. As a result, his side promptly recorded a resounding 5-2 victory – thanks in no small part to the Newcastle United man, who has taken to the FIFA World Cup™ stage with the same natural ease he has shown at every step of a career that began in Toulouse's youth ranks.
"Like we told ourselves at the start of the competition, we all share the same goal and the coach knows he can expect the same thing from all 23 members of the squad," Sissoko told FIFA, having come off the bench against Honduras in France's opening assignment. "Everyone is ready to go out on the pitch at any time. I wasn't a starter in the first match and I was in the second, but I prepare myself the same way in both cases – to be ready on the day of the game."
The 24-year-old more than lived up to Deschamps' expectations in Salvador, putting his power and endurance to good use as he pressed high up the pitch to disrupt Switzerland's distribution. "We were able to score in the first quarter of an hour, and we got two goals in the space of 30 seconds," said the midfielder. "That hurt them a lot and gave us the perfect start." *Les Bleus *then added a third before half-time, and they continued in the same vein after the break, with Sissoko bustling back and forth to help out defensively and also lend a hand to an eye-catching attacking display.
Back in the fold
His efforts further forward eventually brought him the reward of France's fifth goal, after he had helped set up the fourth. It was his maiden effort on the international stage in his 19th outing for the 1998 champions. "My first participation in a World Cup and a first goal – I couldn't be happier," he commented. "Those are the moments you dream about when you play football, and I'm happy to be sharing them with this team."
Deschamps's men now look firmly on course for the Round of 16, and Sissoko is relishing a journey that began for him personally with a pair of caps under Raymond Domenech in October 2009. He was then selected by Laurent Blanc in August 2010, but over two years went by before Deschamps brought him back into the fold in October 2012, meaning that Brazil 2014 represents his first major tournament. Despite that, he could not feel more at home in a squad transformed in the wake of their play-off win. "We've been regularly improving our standard since the second leg against Ukraine," he said, *Les Bleus *having bounced back with a 3-0 home triumph after losing 2-0 away. "Since then, we've realised we have the qualities to achieve something great, and that's what we're now showing the world."
The same could be said of Sissoko himself, of course, his own trajectory having taken him from the suburbs of Paris to the playing fields of Brazil. Born to Malian parents, he dreamed of following in the footsteps of his idol, Mahamadou Diarra, and his burgeoning talent earned him a place in Toulouse's youth academy, where he learnt the ropes before making his Ligue 1 debut in 2007. Shortly afterwards, he also become one of the driving forces of France's U-21 side. "For me, it's a source of strength to have come from a poor neighbourhood and a big family, and to have watched my parents work," he explained a few years back. "It's because of that that I have a little something extra; there's always a certain rage in me, and a constant desire to reach higher."
'France can go very far'Sissoko ultimately spent six years at Toulouse before opting for a new adventure in the Premier League, joining Newcastle in January 2013 and quickly adapting to a whole new level of football. He could hardly have hoped for a brighter start, in fact, scoring twice on his home debut in a win against Chelsea to justify everything he had said upon his arrival: "England is made for me, and it fits with my style of play. I grabbed this chance and I'm very happy to be in the country that's the home of football."
That description is fairly apt for Brazil too, where Sissoko will be eager to continue his rise against Ecuador on Wednesday, when France hope to secure top spot in Group E. "We've played two good matches with lots of goals, good combinations, solid work at the back and great attacking moves," he said. "We'll try to play the way we have since the start of the tournament and remain united on the pitch. If we can do that, France can go very far." Indeed, after their first pair of performances, no one would be surprised to see Sissoko and Co stroll out at the Maracana for the Final on 13 July.