There can surely be no better feeling for an international footballer than putting in a decisive performance in the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup™. Plenty of the stars here at Brazil 2014 will have long dreamed about such a display, and France’s Paul Pogba made that a reality in Monday’s Round of 16 clash versus Nigeria.
Hyundai Young Player Award candidate Pogba was in fine form in Brasilia, ably providing a vital link between Les Bleus’ midfield and forward lines as well as popping up with the opening goal – one which finally broke Nigeria’s disciplined resistance – in a 2-0 success. What is more, the icing on the cake for Didier Deschamps’ No19 was the Budweiser Man of the Match award, Pogba’s first this competition.
Yet the rangy Juventus midfielder was not the only Young Player hopeful to catch the eye, with team-mate Raphael Varane once more a wall at the back for the 1998 world champions. Continually repelling Nigerian attacks with bravery and no little skill, the Real Madrid starlet underlined his commitment to the cause by blocking a ball of such ferocity he spent several seconds in a daze.
In the opposing camp, full-back Kenneth Omeruo did not disappoint either. Just as in the African champions’ three previous matches, he played the full 90 minutes and made a solid contribution in defence and attack, though was unable to prevent his side’s defeat.
In the other game on the penultimate matchday of the Round of 16, three possible candidates were in attendance in Porto Alegre, though neither German pair Julian Draxler and Matthias Ginter nor Algeria’s Nabil Bentaleb saw action.
Tuesday’s matchday could see appearances from exciting young Belgian trio Divock Origi, Romelu Lukaku and Adnan Januzaj, with the former duo vying for one centre-forward berth and the latter eyeing a spot out wide. Up against Belgium are USA, for whom Young Player candidates DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Julian Green are all likely to start on the bench – thus raring for an opportunity to take to the field and make their mark.