France . World Cup winners . 1998 . 2018

Teamwork over talent

Paul Pogba (centre), his brothers Florentin, Mathias (right) and their mother Yeo showing the World Cup trophy some love after France's win in the final on Sunday.
Paul Pogba (centre), his brothers Florentin, Mathias (right) and their mother Yeo showing the World Cup trophy some love after France's win in the final on Sunday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Deschamps admits his team were 'imperfect' against Croatia but won with mental strength

MOSCOW • Ecstatic France players crashed Didier Deschamps' press conference after their World Cup victory, chanting his name as they sprayed champagne, water and energy drinks on their coach and assembled journalists.

The players were corralled out of the room before returning a few seconds later, as Deschamps was drying himself off, singing "C'est pas fini", dancing and jumping on to the press conference table.

"They are completely crazy those lads. They're young and they're happy," said a grinning, wet Deschamps after the players had left.

There is evidence to back his claim. Videos shot by the players in the changing room after their 4-2 victory over Croatia on Sunday showed them singing, dancing and raising a toast together, while teaching France President Emmanuel Macron how to "dab".

There is also proof that Deschamps' youthful side know how to work and fight.

France's World Cup squad have an average age of just over 26 and they have an abundance of world-class players in Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann.

But the way the team negotiated the tournament with intelligence and fortitude gives even greater cause for optimism for the future.

TIGHT GROUP

For me, the collective is the most important thing. If you have a strong and united team, you can do anything. I have extraordinary team-mates and now we're going to be a part of history.

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN, France forward, on the squad's emphasis on teamwork.

France were efficient, calculating, clever and in command in most of their matches without showing a huge amount of entertaining flair.

In all seven games they played in Russia, they had an average of 48 per cent possession, doing the hard work off the ball. Tactically they were able to adapt throughout the tournament and show flexibility - the hallmark of a successful squad.

"My greatest source of pride is that they had the state of mind, 'Never give up, never give up'," Deschamps said.

"There were imperfections even today but we had psychological qualities which were decisive. The teams which only had the best technical skills did not have enough. In the first half, we didn't have much but we were leading 2-1."

Their chances of continuing on a winning path are also increased by the fact Deschamps, popular with his players, is staying in the job at least until the end of the 2020 European Championship.

The precocious Mbappe, 19, could be one of the pillars of a French team with the potential to dominate the world game in the way Pele and his team-mates did from the late 50s right till 1970.

Alongside Griezmann, voted man of the match for the final in Moscow, in attack, with Pogba in the midfield engine room and the powerful Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane in defence, France have a firm foundation to build on.

Deschamps credited his star players for buying into a team mentality which was vital to their success.

Said Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann: "For me, the collective is the most important thing. If you have a strong and united team, you can do anything.

"I have extraordinary team-mates and now we're going to be a part of history. Maybe it won't hit home immediately but, in the future, our children are going to be proud of what we have done. Now we have to enjoy it."

Pogba was certainly happy to prove the naysayers wrong.

Once the world's most expensive footballer after moving from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 for £89 million (S$161 million), the 25-year-old has endured criticism for his performances for club and country.

But he proved to be one of the best players on the pitch on Sunday. He highlighted an all-round performance by scoring France's third goal, beginning the move with a long pass to Mbappe and finishing it off with his left foot.

"It's just unbelievable, magnificent, wonderful, a dream come true," Pogba said. "People criticise and talk bad about us at the start of the World Cup but today we won, and now I want to hear them, because they're going to celebrate with us, and it's fine, we invite them to celebrate with us.

"We like when people do not believe in us and we showed them they have to. The only answer we can have is always on the pitch."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2018, with the headline 'Teamwork over talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe