The Manchester United man did not need to get on the scoresheet to be decisive for Les Bleus as they moved into the knockout stages in Russia
The goal may have been Kylian Mbappe’s and the assist Olivier Giroud’s, but there was no doubt that France’s winning strike against Peru in Ekaterinburg on Thursday was all thanks to Paul Pogba.
It was the match in which the Manchester United star truly arrived at the World Cup. He was a swaggering, self-confident presence in a stadium charged with an incredible atmosphere that was almost entirely against Didier Deschamps’ men.
There might have been more than 20,000 vibrant Peruvians present in the Ekaterinburg Arena, but the most decisive figure was in blue.
Despite all the criticism he has received over the last two years, here Pogba looked every inch the man who commanded a world-record transfer fee when Manchester United captured him from Juventus in the summer of 2016.
In the first half, in particular, he was imperious, with the only notable blemish a 20-second lapse in which he gifted the ball away twice and threatened to allow his standards to drop.
Instead, it was the 25-year-old who took a grip on the game and allowed Les Bleus to build a half-time lead.
Feeding off scraps as Peru twice failed to properly clear, he firstly flicked a deft pass through to Mbappe that was squandered as the Paris Saint-Germain forward attempted an ill-advised flick.
Moments later, though, the breakthrough was made. Pogba crunched into a challenge as the South Americans tried to relieve themselves of building French pressure, winning possession and then setting up Giroud for a shot at goal.
The Chelsea forward’s effort was half blocked, with Mbappe following up on the line to ensure the goal and in doing so becoming the first player born after France ’98 to score in the World Cup finals.
An unbridled France produced some slick offensive football up until the break, with Pogba inevitably the starting point for their best moves.
Peru, needing a point to survive in the competition, offered more than just spirited resistance in the second half but were rarely able to test Hugo Lloris on the occasion of his 100th cap.
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Indeed, aside from a big chance for Paolo Guerrero when the match was still scoreless and a fine effort from Pedro Aquino soon after the restart, France did enough to keep their opponents at an arm’s length.
It was not the complete display that Deschamps might have wished for, but with two wins from two matches, France are safely into the knockout rounds.
The French juggernaut is slowly gaining momentum – and so too, it seems, is Pogba.