Almost a year ago to the day, Paul Pogba looked on from the bench as France lost their third and final group match to Spain at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013. The slip-up would have no serious consequences for Les Bleuets, who qualified for the Round of 16 and eventually went on to lift the trophy.
“I just hope that we’ll see a repeat of what happened at U-20 level,” the powerful midfielder told FIFA with a broad smile, referring to the successful run he and Lucas Digne – both named in France’s senior XI versus Ecuador at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ on Wednesday – enjoyed twelve months before.
“We struggled against Spain in our third match in Turkey, but we still ended up winning the U-20 World Cup. If we could go on the same kind of run here in Brazil, that would be amazing,” he said.
Pogba has come a long way since that famous day in June 2013. A revelation with Juventus this season, the dynamic Frenchman has since established himself with Les Bleus, despite having only recently turned 21. Against La Tri at the Estadio do Maracana, he put in the kind of strong display with which he made his name at U-20 level.
“I’m happy and I feel good, but I’d prefer not to dwell on my own performance and talk about how the team played instead,” he said.
I don’t think this match will have any kind of negative effect on our confidence. We drew, we didn’t lose. That’s an important distinction
Modesty aside, Pogba had an impressive 90 minutes in Rio de Janeiro, dominating in midfield and creating some of the best chances of the Group E clash, including a header – expertly saved by Alexander Dominguez – in the 38th minute, a 58th-minute shot that was blocked by Cristhian Noboa, a further headed effort in the 73rd minute and an 89th-minute attempt that went just wide.
“We played well and put in the performance that was expected of us, but we didn’t get the result we deserved. All we lacked was a bit of a break in front of goal, that’s all,” explained the Serie A star.
“I don’t think this match will have any kind of negative effect on our confidence. We drew, we didn’t lose. That’s an important distinction. We can be satisfied with how we did overall and with our qualification for the knockout stages.”
With a berth in the next round now assured, French eyes will likely turn to the subsequent hurdle that awaits in the shape of a Round-of-16 clash with Nigeria. “It could have been Argentina, or another team, but no matter who it is, our goals of winning and getting as far as possible in the tournament don’t change. We’re doing everything we can to achieve those aims,” said the confident No19.
It is probably wise to take Pogba’s comments seriously, because just after the U-20 World Cup, he spoke of his ambition of playing on football’s greatest stage. “I really wanted to play at the senior World Cup, that’s true. Now that’s it’s become a reality, I’m very happy. But I don’t want things to end there; I would like to keep making progress,” he concluded with confidence.