Paul Pogba answered his critics by serving as the driving force for France with a goal and an assist in a 3-1 friendly win away to World Cup hosts Russia in St Petersburg, while Kylian Mbappe also impressed by netting twice.
Having been introduced as a second-half substitute in the 3-2 loss to Colombia in Paris last week, Pogba started at Krestovsky Stadium and came to exert a telling influence on proceedings, setting up the opening goal for Mbappe in the 40th minute, before netting a stunning free-kick four minutes into the second half.
The commanding performance was a welcome tonic for the 25-year-old midfielder, who has endured a baffling period in and out of the Manchester United first team in 2018, having seemingly fallen somewhat from manager Jose Mourinho’s favour despite his evident talents and weighty price tag.
France allowed Russia captain Fedor Smolov to get a goal back from a swift counterattack with 22 minutes remaining, before the visitors made the game the safe with Mbappe’s second goal in the 83rd minute.
But the Paris Saint-Germain star injured himself in the process of completing his brace and had to be replaced by Thomas Lemar, providing a potential fitness worry for club and particularly country ahead of the World Cup.
Les Bleus’ campaign begins against Group C opponents Australia in Kazan on June 16, followed by meetings with Peru and then Denmark.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 27, 2018
France coach Didier Deschamps made seven changes to the XI that started the Colombia defeat, and also switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 formation. But despite the presence of Pogba from kick-off, Les Bleus initially struggled to impose themselves.
Russia coach Stanislav Cherchesov recalled CSKA Moscow star Alan Dzagoev and Zenit veteran Yuri Zhirkov to bolster a team dispatched 3-0 by Brazil in Moscow on Friday.
And it was Dzagoev who helped to engineer the first clear sight of goal in the 15th minute, his pass teeing up Smolov for a close-range shot that was well saved by Hugo Lloris.
France had to wait until the 27th minute to threaten meaningfully, as Pogba’s insightful ball over the top of the Russia defence was taken down by N’Golo Kante, who had beaten the offside trap and then shifted possession on to Anthony Martial.
The Manchester United forward’s deflected attempt fell to Mbappe, and his unconvincing shot was straight at Andrey Lunev.
He made no mistake for the opener in the 40th minute, though. A well-weighted throughball from Pogba unleashed the livewire PSG forward, who cut inside to beat defender Roman Neustadter and slot a low finish past Lunev.
— French Team (@FrenchTeam) March 27, 2018
He almost had a second just three minutes later, Lunev doing well to keep out Mbappe’s strike from point-blank range after a cutback supplied by Martial, who also had two optimistic penalty appeals dismissed.
Pogba came to the fore again after the break, drawing a foul from Aleksandr Erokhin and duly curling home an eye-catching, long-range strike from the set-piece to double his team’s advantage.
Russia pulled one back in the 68th minute, substitute Igor Smolnikov swinging in a brilliant low cross from the right flank that Smolov met at the back post to smash past Lloris.
France, having introduced Antoine Griezmann shortly before the hour mark, made the game safe with seven minutes to go, substitute Blaise Matuidi setting up Mbappe to bamboozle the Russia defence and fire through the legs of Lunev, who should have done better.
The forward quickly signalled his discomfort to the bench, though, Lemar taking his place as PSG boss Unai Emery and Deschamps face a wait to learn the extent of the problem, although the 19-year-old appeared relaxed in his immediate post-match interview.
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