France was able to withstand an hour of German pressure – insert your own Maginot Line joke here– and come out the Euro semifinal with a 2-0 victory and a date in the finals with Portugal (Sunday at 3:00 pm on SiriusXM FC, Ch. 85.) Their game should be an interesting one because Portugal has been a stubborn old mule all summer long and France, for as not-great as they have looked at times, are a damned complete team coming into to their own.
In 2016, under Didier Deschamps, France has not lost. They have only suffered the indignity of a tie once, in their Group Stage match against Switzerland when neither side had anything to play for. The French defense is creaky and leaky, it is true, but who cares when that dominant midfield is in front of it? Antoine Griezmann is leading the tournament with six goals — three more than anyone else (“anyone else” in this case are his countrymen Olivier Giroud and Dmitri Payet, who are tied with several others at three goals apiece). Griezmann’s butt is the surprise star of the tournament.
Everything is lining up perfectly for French side, and with the final set in Paris, parallel of the 1998 World Cup for Les Bleus are entirely understandable. It’s quite the matchup, even for Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal squad. Ronaldo is a perfect player, but on a very imperfect team that while not “lucky” to be here is, at the least, an on-paper underdog. Portugal, after squeaking out of the group, pipped far more likable teams in Croatia and Poland, and then ran away from Wales-without-Aaron Ramsey. It isn’t that Portugal hasn’t been tested, they have. It’s just that they’ve gotten straight “C”s in leading up to the finale.
And those marks do not portend good things against France and who may be the most terrifying final boss in soccer today: Paul Pogba.
There is a very old and very bad joke that in order to become a world-renowned sculptor, you start with a block of marble and just cut away everything that isn’t David. After seven years in the spotlight, a World Cup appearance and a bucketful of young-player-of-the-year awards, the 23-year-old midfielder is a masterpiece. Pogba has been everywhere for France (including, early on, the bench) and has been the perfect modern midfielder in this week.
Pogba dismantled Iceland with an early header, dabbing gracefully afterwards. Against Germany, he humiliated one of the best centerbacks on the planet. Standing just outside the box, Pogba dangled his right leg over the ball and begged Shkodran Mustafi to overcommit. After what seemed like an eternity, Mustafi lunged left. Pogba went to his right and lofted a cross that turned into an easy Antoine Griezmann goal.
Once someone invents a way to hang a gif up on teenagers’ walls, the move should be the Michael Jordan Free Throw Line Dunk of its generation.
Pogba has the easy marketability of His Airness, but the French see their own legend in the young man’s height, creativity and surliness. Zinedine Zidane was 26 when he won the World Cup for France, in France (those echoes of ’98 again…) He even played club ball for Juventus, like Pogba. The most obvious difference is that Zidane’s monkish bald spot was no match for today’s Marcel Duchamp-ian hairdos. For younger soccer fans that only know Zidane as the head-butting madman (or the Real Madrid skipper), they get to see someone just as clever and just as adept at ruining an opponent’s life in young Pogba.
Which, plenty of big boots to fill. Portugal will try to frustrate him (and Griezmann, and Payet, and all the other French weapons) by staying packed in. Their own attacking mix of teenager Renato Sanches alongside veterans Ronaldo, Nani and Quaresma has been enough so far.
There are also plenty of mutterings that Pogba’s own coach, former Zidane teammate Didier Deschamps, may be frustrating enough on his own. The former stalwart defender has tried to carve Pogba in his own image and it has not really been until the second half of the Germany match that Pogba’s been set free to wreak destruction.
On Sunday we’ll see if Pogba will be allowed, by Portugal and by his own coach, to do what he does best. If he gets free reign, this summer will be another step in his ascension over the rapidly-aging Cristiano Ronaldo. Pogba may be the king of European football by the time the next World Cup comes around.
Pogba is hardly a secret, but he is not yet a legend. Unless Portugal has something more than sheer cussedness up their sleeve, Sunday may be the pivot the world’s been waiting for out of Paul Pogba
This post was composed by freelance writer and swell guy, Asher Kohn. Reach out to him and discuss all the soccer happenings from around the world on Twitter at:@AJKhn. Catch up with all of the latest soccer/footie/futbol/fußball happenings, including Portugal vs France on SiriusXM FC.
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