Rising star Paul Pogba heads home to help France ease past Nigeria
Juventus midfielder breaks deadlock with header from a corner before Joseph Yobo's late own goal seals Nigeria's exit
Paul Pogba’s goalscoring display in France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria showcased how talented the young midfielder is, with coach Didier Deschamps hoping to see those skills on a more regular basis.
The Juventus player headed Les Bleus in front in the 79th minute of their World Cup last 16 clash at the Brasilia national stadium on Monday to cap a man-of-the-match display after reacting well to being dropped earlier in the tournament.
The 21-year-old had been fortunate to escape a red card in the 3-0 opening Group E win over Honduras and subsequently lost his place in the side for the 5-2 demolition of Switzerland.
He returned against Ecuador but another indifferent performance put his starting place in jeopardy against the Nigerians.
Deschamps, though, kept faith and was duly rewarded as Pogba continued to drive forward from midfield on Monday, almost scoring a brilliant volley in the first half before bagging the crucial opener in the second.
WATCH: Paul Pogba puts France in front
“He showed his potential today,” Deschamps said.
“Maybe he played a bit more simply today and all the credit is due to him.
“I did not doubt his ability and he played a remarkable match. I hope he can do it on a regular basis now.”
Victory was sealed for France when Joseph Yobo turned a low cross into his own goal in stoppage time.
Les Bleus will play Germany in the last eight.
“Deliverance came late, but all the matches at this World Cup are difficult,” said Deschamps.
“We’re among the best eight teams in the world who remain. We won’t go on about it, but we should savour it and in four days, we’ll go again.”
Nigeria fell apart near the end after having an effort from Emmanuel Emenike disallowed for offside in the first half.
“I think it was a good game, I think we had a very good game but we were just unlucky to have lost at the end,” coach Stephen Keshi said.
“I would love to know the reason why the referee disallowed the goal. It was not shown on TV and it was a shame.”
Deschamps said he was particularly pleased with the last half an hour, when the introduction of forward Antoine Griezmann gave the French a bit more zip in attack.
“We had a very strong last half an hour with more dynamism and more speed,” Deschamps said.
“We had space to create chances and we could have scored quite a few times.
“I tried to create some more speed by bringing on Griezmann and we tried to exploit the space with short passes and it worked.”
Nigeria had been defending increasingly desperately in the run-up to Pogba’s goal.
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had been superb throughout but flapped at a corner following a sustained spell of French pressure, which lead to Pogba heading home from close range. Keshi refused to blame the goalkeeper.
“What happened happened and yes it cost us big,” he said.
“When you see your team playing good football and trying to do what you ask them to do and all of a sudden it turns around and you lose the game, I don’t think we deserved to lose this way but that’s what happens in football.
“I am not going to start putting the blame on one or two people. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”
WATCH: Joseph Yobo scores an own goal
Pogba’s talents have never been in question.
He oozes class and is the complete box-to-box midfielder, compared routinely with former France great Patrick Vieira.
But while Vieira was able to churn out an endless run of great display’s the same can’t be said of Pogba – yet.
Fans of Juventus may disagree, though, as he has quickly forced himself into the starting lineup of the Italian champions after leaving Manchester United in 2012.
That transfer away from England saw the Frenchman described as “the one Alex Ferguson should not have let go”.
The move to Italy also brought questions, with Pogba outspoken in his criticism of former United manager Ferguson for not giving him a starting berth and the chance to shine.
Firing out criticism often draws it in return and the young midfielder has seen plenty, especially when pundits believe he isn’t performing at the level he should.
“He is young. I think it’s normal he gets criticised, it’s part of a top player’s life,” Deschamps said.
“I think it will toughen him up a bit.”
After an all-action display, Nigerians might say he is tough enough.