Paul Pogba has done what very few players can say they have achieved during their career – score a goal in a World Cup final and lift the trophy!
The Manchester United midfielder netted a stunning third goal for France in the second half of their pulsating 4-2 victory over Croatia in Sunday’s final in Moscow, following up his initial blocked shot with a rasping effort from the edge of the box which flew past Croatia keeper Danijel Subašić.
It was our no.6’s first goal of the tournament and he left it for the biggest occasion. Paul also became the first United player to score in a World Cup final and the first Premier League player to net in the showpiece event since Emmanuel Petit, once of Arsenal, when France were last crowned world champions as the host nation in 1998.
Earlier in the game, Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic headed Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick into his own net, but Ivan Perisic’s fine finish levelled matters for Croatia 10 minutes later. However, Griezmann’s contentious penalty six minutes before the break restored France’s lead, after Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana was advised by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to review a handball by Perisic inside the box.
Pogba’s marvellous contribution in the 59th minute then gave Les Bleus clear daylight and Paris St-Germain’s 19-year-old starlet Kylian Mbappe, who was later awarded the tournament’s Best Young Player award, added further gloss with a well-taken goal. France's goalkeeper, Tottenham Hotspur star Hugo Lloris, gave Croatia a glimmer of hope with a dreadful mistake which allowed Mandzukic to pull a goal back on 69 minutes, but there was to be no unprecedented comeback from Zlatko Dalic’s side in their first-ever World Cup final.
One of the leading stars of Russia 2018, Paul put in another impressive and intelligent display in the middle of the park to help Les Bleus claim the most prestigious prize in the sport, after a thrilling final which was a fitting climax to a fantastic festival of football.
Of course, the success will also be celebrated by Paul’s United team-mate Anthony Martial, who was unfortunately left out of France’s multi-talented 23-man squad for the tournament, such is the fierce competition at coach Didier Deschamps’s disposal.
PAUL JOINS AN ELITE CLUB
Pogba becomes only the fourth player to have won the greatest prize in football while at United, and the first in 52 years, after Sir Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and John Connelly lifted the trophy with England in 1966.
At the age of 25, Paul enters the history books as the second-youngest Red to become a World Cup winner, after Stiles who was 24 when the Three Lions were victorious, while Charlton and Connelly were both 28 at the time.
Juan Mata was part of Spain’s World Cup winning squad in 2010, while several former United players have got their hands on the World Cup while at other clubs – Fabien Barthez, Laurent Blanc, Kleberson, Gerard Pique and, as recently as 2014 with Germany, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Incidentally, Pogba has claimed his World Cup winners’ medal at the same venue in the Russian capital – the Luzhniki Stadium – where United won the Champions League in 2008, on one of the most dramatic nights in the club’s illustrious history.
Twelve United players started out in Russia representing their countries at the tournament and Pogba was the last man standing, after our England quartet Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard and Phil Jones and Belgium duo Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini were knocked out at the semi-final stage.
It’s already Paul’s second triumph at international level, after he captained France’s Under-20s to World Cup glory in 2013 and took home the Golden Boy award for the best player at the tournament, following a string of eye-catching performances.
POGBA HAS COME OF AGE ON THE BIG STAGE
It has been a memorable tournament for our Academy graduate, who has once again shown he can handle the pressure and expectation of a major tournament – having claimed the Best Young Player award at the 2014 World Cup and impressed at Euro 2016.
Paul had spoken openly and honestly in the build-up to Sunday’s showpiece, admitting that France made a mistake two years ago by underestimating the situation before losing to Portugal in the final.
His performance on Sunday illustrated how keen he was to make amends for the disappointing defeat at the European Championship, as he was one of France’s most influential players in the final – a display in keeping with his entire tournament.
Paul has been a dominant figure and a driving force in the engine room for Deschamps’s side, proving effective at both ends of the pitch and demonstrating his fine range of passing.
He played a part in all three of France’s goals in the group stage – being involved in the build-up to Antoine Griezmann’s penalty before teeing up the late winner in their opening 2-1 victory over Australia.
In their second group match against Peru, Paul instigated the only goal of the game, winning the ball back in midfield before his exquisite pass released Olivier Giroud to set up Kylian Mbappe to tap home and give France a 1-0 victory.
Pogba only missed one game throughout the competition for Les Bleus, when he was rested for the goalless draw with Denmark in the final group game when progression to the knockout stage was already assured.
Before the World Cup got under way, we ran a poll on ManUtd.com asking fans which United player would have the biggest impact at the tournament. 16 per cent voted for Pogba and they have proven to be correct as the dynamic former Juventus man has lasted the full distance at what has arguably been one of the best World Cups in years.
After the celebrations have died down, Paul will enjoy a well-deserved holiday to recharge his batteries ahead of another long season ahead with the Reds, with United’s first Premier League game of 2018/19 less than a month away.
‘PAUL IS ONE OF FRANCE’S TALISMEN’
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand, who has an abundance of international experience as an ex-England captain, was full of praise for the way Pogba stepped up for France on the big stage.
“Pogba was immense, especially in the second half when the pressure was on and he had to come to the fore,” Rio told BBC Sport.
“He’s had a huge price tag on his name and he had a tough season last season, in terms of being called out by the media and people in the game. At the World Cup, he’s been responsible, he’s stood up to a lot of hard tests in the midfield and he was one of the talismen of this team. I think this is a fantastic opportunity for this team to kick on and win more now.
As for Paul’s brilliant goal, Ferdinand said of his pass to Mbappe in the build-up:
“That was naughty! The weight of the pass and the execution on the volley is such a difficult skill to do. But he didn't just admire the pass, he caught up with the play and eventually guided the ball beautifully into the corner of the net.