France midfielder Paul Pogba earned the Star of the Match award for his display in the world champions’ 1-0 win over Germany in their Euro 2020 Group F opener on Tuesday but knows how lucky he is to play alongside N’Golo Kante. Powerhouse Pogba’s sublime pass in the 20th minute unlocked Germany’s defence, allowing Lucas Hernandez to drive in a cross that Germany’s Mats Hummels turned into his own net.
Pogba, 28, delivered several other moments of quality as the link between France’s midfield and the dream attacking trident of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema.
Adrien Rabiot was also a disciplined presence in Didier Deschamps’ midfield that was ultimately far too crafty for a German side that looked short of cohesion. But it was Chelsea’s Kante, who at the age of 30 appears to be elevating his games to new levels, who knitted it together.
A few weeks after his masterful display helped Chelsea overcome favourites Manchester City in the Champions League final, Kante again showed that he remains the beating heart of world champions France. When required as a defensive shield in the second half, as Germany tried to build some momentum, Kante was immense.
Almost inevitably, Kante was also in close proximity whenever France turned over possession — using the ball efficiently and with no little vision. Pogba’s Manchester United career has spluttered at times, yet when playing for France, Kante’s influence rubs off on him to such an extent that he looks like a world-beater. In the 28 games he has started for France with Kante, Les Blues have won 22, drawn six and lost none. “Pogba was absolutely immense tonight,” France’s Euro 2000 winner Robert Pires said. “We know all about his technique. He’s back to his best, physically.”
Pogba’s words after the game would have been music to the ears of Deschamps, as he attempts to add the European crown to the World Cup his side won in Russia in 2018. “We know we need to live up to our tag as world champions and come out on to the pitch with humility,” Pogba said. “When we need to suffer, we do it together and when we attack, we do it together,” added the midfielder, who said this week how much of an honour it was to play alongside Kante.
Eight of France’s starting team against Germany played in the 2018 World Cup final win over Croatia and, while it was not a five-star display, they won with something to spare as both Benzema and Mbappe had goals ruled out for offside.
Those looking for weaknesses were left disappointed as France’s unbeaten run in competitive matches reached 17. “We spent all night talking about France’s attacking players, but again another clean sheet,” former Manchester United skipper Roy Keane said. “That’s a defence that can win them the title. They are brilliant at the back.”
For Germany, a first defeat in the opening match of a European Championship gives coach Joachim Loew much to ponder. They looked toothless in attack with the returning Thomas Mueller failing to gel with Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry.
Pogba plays down Ruediger ‘bite’
Munich: France midfielder Paul Pogba has played down Antonio Ruediger’s apparent attempted bite on his back during the world champions’ Euro 2020 win over Germany, with UEFA saying the defender would not face disciplinary action.
Television replays showed Chelsea defender Ruediger putting his mouth on Pogba just before half-time in France’s 1-0 win over Germany in Munich on Tuesday. Immediately after the incident, Pogba cried out and complained to Spanish referee Carlos del Cerro Grande, who did not punish the German, and the Manchester United star played it down after the game.
“I think he nibbled at me a little bit, but we’ve known each other for a long time. Toni and I are friends. It was nothing big. We hugged after the game and it’s over,” Pogba said.
Pogba, the man of the match in Munich, said it was “better” that Ruediger escaped punishment. “I don’t want him to be suspended because of that,” said the Frenchman, who played a key role in the build-up to Mats Hummels’ ultimately decisive own goal.
Pogba said he told the referee what happened but was glad there was no “yellow or red card for such an incident”. In the build-up to the match, Champions League winner Ruediger had said the Germans would need to “be a little dirty” against the French.
Yesterday, the Chelsea centre-back admitted it “looked bad” but insisted it was not a bite. “I’m not allowed to go like this with my mouth against his back, that goes without saying. It looks bad,” Ruediger said.
“After the final whistle I spoke in a friendly way with Paul and both with me and afterwards in an interview he confirmed it wasn’t a bite, as some had thought at first.” UEFA said ithat after reviewing the television replays, it would open “no disciplinary case”.
Pogba removes beer bottle at news conference
France midfielder Paul Pogba removed a bottle of Heineken beer that had been placed in front of him at a Euro 2020 news conference on Tuesday, a day after Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo moved aside Coca-Cola bottles in a similar set-up.
Pogba, a practising Muslim, removed the bottle when he sat down to speak to the media after he was named ‘Man of the Match’ in France’s 1-0 Group F win over Germany. On Monday, Ronaldo removed two bottles of Coca-Cola at a news conference and held up a bottle of water shouting “Agua” in Portuguese.
Paul Pogba in action against Germany on Thursday. (Reuters)
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