Paul Pogba Leads France to 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup Glory
On Saturday night, the Turk Telecom Arena hosted a war of attrition, with France and Uruguay inseparable over 120 minutes leading up to the decisive penalty shootout.
It had been a scrappy game but not due to a lack of ambition. Rather, as both sides sought to press high up the pitch, nerves ensured that passes went astray, runs were mistimed and shots ill-directed.
There was, however, quality on display from both sides. While some players may have found the intensity limited their impact, others came to the fore and thrived—none more so than Player of the Tournament Paul Pogba.
The central midfielder was supreme on Saturday evening, showing himself to be a level apart from those around him.
Uruguay congested the midfield areas and made it difficult for France to penetrate, but Pogba was always able to find space, recycle possession and continue French control of the centre field.
For the South Americans, striker Nicolas Lopez most threatened to steal Pogba's moment of glory.
The Roma forward was a nightmare for the French defence to deal with. His pace and low centre of gravity allowed him to turn France's two giant central defenders.
While Kurt Zouma maintained his poise, colleague Mouhamadou-Naby Sarr was frequently at a loss when Lopez was on the move. Had the Uruguayan been more composed in his finishing, the match may never have needed to reach a shootout.
It was not to be, though, and it was fitting that Pogba set Les Bleuets on the road to victory by rolling home the first spot-kick. The penalty kick said everything about Pogba—arrogance, calmness and quality in one midfield package.
His personal battle with Sebastian Cristoforo in the centre of the park was one of the game's most intriguing factors. Both players offered different qualities, but they were key to their side.
Pogba was the languid ball player, neat and tidy in his distribution before powering past his opponent.
While he was forced to stem his attacking qualities on this occasion, Cristoforo is undoubtedly one of several Uruguayan players who have bolstered their reputations over the past few weeks.
However, for all their efforts, the one player who remained untouchable—as he had been for much of the tournament—was Pogba. He was there to mop up in defence, putting in important tackles and interceptions, and France based their attacks on his play.
His talent has been known for some time, and the past year has seen the Frenchman transform from Manchester United reserve to Serie A-winning France international. What he has shown over the past few weeks, though, is that he has the potential to be a leading light of his generation.
Now all that remains is for him to go on and prove it in the coming years. After all, the Under-20 World Cup Golden Shoe award has not always been a kind mistress to those who have received it.
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