Paul Pogba and France finally primed to atone for Euro 2016 | David Hytner

The Guardian Sports 4 months ago

It was an impassioned soliloquy from Paul Pogba and one that bears retelling precisely as he performed it. The France midfielder could revel in one of the most beautiful triumphs of his career – the 1-0 World Cup semi‑final win against Belgium on Tuesday night – and the release of emotion was palpable.

Pogba has described himself during this tournament as the most criticised player in world football and those who do him down tend to look at the flashiness, the hair, the indiscipline, the self-centredness. Post-Belgium, Pogba wanted to set the record straight and remind a few people about what really drives him.

“I say it again – I don’t want to prove nothing to nobody,” the 25-year-old said. “I came from … I wouldn’t say nothing. Obviously, I had no trophies. I could do one thing and it was to play football. It was my love, my first love. I live for football. I get criticised again and again but today everything is fine. It’s always nice to win and it is nice to hear nice things about the team, about yourself and everything.

“I know that sometimes you are doing good, sometimes you are doing bad, but that’s how you grow. It’s not like I always do the good things and I hope I’m not doing the good things so I can delete the bad things. I can improve and get better and better. I wouldn’t say that I’m young but I’m not old – yet – and we are going through nice things and want to finish it. We want to finish it and prove it.

“I say again, the critics can criticise me but the one thing they cannot criticise is the pitch; is the love of football I have in my heart and I will always have it. And even if I hear good things or bad things, I will keep fighting for my love.”

Pogba has impressed in Russia, including with his fluency in interviews in French, English, Italian and Spanish. On the field he has shown his discipline, particularly in the knockout rounds and particularly against Belgium. The thought occurred that he rarely played as well for Manchester United in a central midfield two but then again, he does not have N’Golo Kanté alongside him at club level or even Blaise Matuidi to the left.

Didier Deschamps noted Pogba had been “very efficient in defence”.The France manager said: “I think that [the Belgium manager] Roberto Martínez decided to put [Marouane] Fellaini on him. He was only worried about Pogba, so Pogba had less freedom on the ball. But he knew what to do. I must say, very honestly, that Paul has grown in the team.”

Arsène Wenger, working here for BeIN Sport, was similarly impressed. “Sometimes Pogba can lose himself by doing things that aren’t useful,” he said. “Against Belgium, he kept things simple and was impressive. His long balls are also exceptional. Few can do that in the world.”

Pogba, like Deschamps and some of the squad, is fired by the pain of Euro 2016. When the captain, Hugo Lloris, addressed the press after the Belgium game, the defeat in the final against Portugal two years ago was the first thing he brought up. Lloris and Pogba had started that match, and so did Samuel Umtiti, Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud.

Surprisingly, there are only three other survivors from the European Championship in Deschamps’s squad: Steve Mandanda, Adil Rami and Kanté. They are on a mission to make amends. “We have gone through to the final of a World Cup and it’s a dream for everybody but you have to realise it,” Pogba said. “We have started our dream and now we need to finish it. We are not done yet.”

Lloris added: “At the Euro, we played the semi-final against Germany on the Thursday and the final against Portugal on the Sunday so we had less time to recover. That is not the case this time. We have time to enjoy, to recover and to prepare the final as well as possible.”

Lloris did not look or sound like a player who had just reached the World Cup final. The consummate professional, he preached caution and focus while he insisted he had not pictured himself lifting football’s most precious trophy.

“As a professional player, you cannot allow yourself to dream,” Lloris said. “You do your best on the field to give the fans the right to dream. The work we have done has to give us the power to finish well.”

Yet, as France prepared for a third final in six editions of the World Cup, there was the flicker of confidence from Lloris. “We can play in different ways, in different styles,” he said. “I think we are quite complete as a team.”

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