Didier Deschamps described Paul Pogba as “the heart and soul” of a strong first-half display in France’s final Euro 2016 Group A game with Switzerland.
Having been dropped from the starting XI against Albania and been forced to apologise for a gesture aimed at the press box at the end of the game, Pogba produced a much-improved performance having been reinstated to the line-up for Sunday’s clash in Lille.
The Juventus star twice hit the crossbar and forced man-of-the-match Yann Sommer into a superb save in the first 45 minutes, and the 23-year-old showed incredible strength to hold off the challenge of four Switzerland players before setting up Antoine Griezmann for a good opening after the break.
Deschamps was highly impressed with Pogba’s performance and hopes to see him hit top form in the knockout stage.
“Paul was the life-force of the first half, the heart and soul,” he said. “He didn’t get forward as much in the second half but he has huge potential and I have a lot of confidence in him.
“We had three games in nine days, which is why I put in some fresh legs. But we need Paul Pogba at a top level.
“This [result] suited us to get top spot but we had four chances, had we been more clinical we’d have scored. They were better on the ball at times but didn’t threaten much. Clearly there are things to improve upon but I’ve seen almost every match and apart form two or three all sides have had tricky games.
“You can always criticise people, the players are aware we can improve in a number of areas. When the goalkeeper is man of the match it shows we had chances.
“We kept a clean sheet, which is good, but this was a crucial match to finish top so I decided not to change the back six because they play like clockwork.
“There are expectations and those are significant. This is not a friendly match, it felt a lot more important than a third group game as soon as we left the hotel. We need to be able to let go more in matches, even though we didn’t have to push too much tonight.”
Deschamps handed starts to Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye in midfield and he was impressed with the performances of the England-based duo alongside Pogba.
“I started him tonight – I didn’t say ‘here’s a gift, go and play’,” he said of Sissoko. “I know what he’s capable of, he always does it for us.
“He contributed a lot, he was excellent at the World Cup, too. Yohan Cabaye also played a good game, which is good. I’ve got some other players who haven’t played who are no doubt disappointed. But once I stressed that the match is crucial, I rotated a little bit but tried to make sure the team was at the same level.”