The World Cup match between France and Honduras was just 28 minutes old when a huge gasp rang out all around France. Paul Pogba was clearly fouled by Honduras' Wilson Palacios, but the Juventus midfielder kicked out in frustration. It was dissent from the young player, and as both players fell to the floor, all eyes focused on the referee.
It could have been a red—by the letter of the law, it should have been a red—which would have evaporated the hopes and dreams of France’s World Cup campaign just like that.
Luckily for Les Bleus, Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci was very level-headed and composed, and he only gave both players a yellow card. France's worry over Pogba's dismissal shows just how far this young talent has come in 12 months.
Last summer, he was a key member of the French under-20 side that won the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey. Now he is an integral part of Didier Deschamps’ senior side—and a major part of France’s new style of play.
Just 17 minutes after the tangle with Palacios, Pogba darted into the penalty area and controlled a superb pass effortlessly on his chest. It looked like he was about to score, but Palacios continued his feud with the youngster and barged into the back of Pogba.
France was awarded a penalty; Karim Benzema tucked it away, and Les Bleus had a 1-0 lead in the World Cup. It was the first time France had led a World Cup match since Zinedine Zidane gave them a 1-0 lead in the 2006 final against Italy in Berlin.
Deschamps does not have a replacement for Pogba; if anything happens to the Juventus man, it would mean a complete change in style. France would continue to play the same formation with a midfield trio. However, it wouldn’t include the unpredictability, the guile, the style and the excellence of France’s emerging star.
In a physical match-up with Honduras, it was never going to be the game that Pogba flourished and showed the world what he is capable of. That is more likely going to come against the less physical Ecuadorians, or when opposing teams come to attack Les Bleus. With a bit more time and a bit more space, Pogba will more often than not make you suffer.
It was no surprise that when France went 2-0 up early in the second half, the first player that Deschamps brought off the field was Pogba. Honduras seemed to spend most of the game kicking players' legs rather than the ball, and with Pogba’s fiery temperament, you don’t want him involved in that sort of situation.
As the Cup goes on, Pogba has a great chance to grow into this tournament and become the leader that he often threatens to be. He already has the physical attributes, and there is no doubting his quality on the ball. What Pogba needs now is games at the highest level—to learn and adapt to playing at a World Cup.
If the referee had seen the 28th-minute incident in a different light, he could have easily dismissed Pogba, and we wouldn’t have seen the midfielder again until the knockout stage. More importantly, there would have been doubts over France’s ability to go far into the knockout stages.
It may seem like a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of a 21-year-old midfielder, but when you have someone who stands to follow in the footsteps of greatness, the expectations are huge.
After Michel Platini came Zinedine Zidane, and now for France, Pogba is the player that could become a world-beater. The French squad is full of technically excellent players, and without them, Pogba wouldn’t have the chance to shine. However, he is the player with the "X-factor."
If France do go far and Pogba become a star of the competition, they should send a thank-you card to Mr Sandro Ricci. From everyone in France…Obrigado!