French hopes pinned on Pogba

Paul Pogba has been embroiled in a controversy after his exuberant celebration in the last game. The Juventus midfield dynamo will hope to be the talk of Paris with his display against Switzerland.
Paul Pogba has been embroiled in a controversy after his exuberant celebration in the last game. The Juventus midfield dynamo will hope to be the talk of Paris with his display against Switzerland. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hosts' expectations remain on midfielder despite his recent run-in with the press

GROUP A

Switzerland v France

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LILLE • Juventus star Paul Pogba finds himself in the eye of a storm as Euro 2016 hosts France prepare to face Switzerland in their final Group A game in Lille today.

Benched initially for Wednesday's 2-0 win over Albania, he came on at half-time and helped set up the second goal for Dimitri Payet deep into stoppage time with a trademark cross-field pass.

But his reaction - an explicit pump of the arm, apparently directed at the press box - caused a scandal and, despite the 23-year-old apologising, it has placed him squarely in the media crosshairs.

The France players who have faced the press since have done their best to dilute the controversy, with Pogba's midfield colleague N'Golo Kante saying: "I didn't see this gesture that everyone's talking about. I was celebrating the second goal."

Nevertheless, the focus will be on Pogba, who is expected to emulate Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane by leading France to glory on home soil as they did at Euro '84 and World Cup '98 respectively, as he takes to the pitch today.

With France already assured of a last-16 place, coach Didier Deschamps will likely kick off with Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, who came off the bench to score the crucial opening goal against Albania.

With Kante and Olivier Giroud both at risk of suspension, Yohan Cabaye and Andre-Pierre Gignac could come into the team as well, with Deschamps expected to revert to a 4-3-3 formation.

The coach will be keen for France to avoid a repeat of the fate that befell them at Euro 2012, when, under Laurent Blanc, a 0-2 loss to Sweden in their last group game condemned them to a quarter-final encounter with eventual champions Spain.

With France two points clear of second-placed Switzerland, a draw will guarantee them top spot in the group and with it, a last-16 tie against the third-placed team in Group C, D or E.

France won 5-2 when the teams last met in the Brazilian city of Salvador during the 2014 World Cup, a victory that sparked their tournament into life, and Deschamps will hope today's game proves a similar catalyst.

Having had to wait until the 89th minute to take the lead against Romania and the 90th minute to go in front against Albania, France have yet to produce a display worthy of their pre-tournament status as potential champions.

Seizing on the Pogba controversy, Switzerland's official Twitter account wrote on Friday: "Hey France, Pogba's not your problem. WE are your problem!"

Vladimir Petkovic's side beat Albania 1-0 in their opening game before drawing 1-1 with Romania and require only a point to secure one of the two automatic qualifying positions.

But Admir Mehmedi, who scored Switzerland's equaliser against Romania in Paris, said: "We want to win, that's clear. We won't be happy just to play for a draw."

Influential midfielder Valon Behrami could miss out, though, as he is nursing a knee problem.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'French hopes pinned on Pogba'. Print Edition | Subscribe