PARIS: France built their greatest triumphs on midfield and in Paul Pogba they may have what it takes to win a third European Championship title on home soil.
The Juventus midfielder has been a key element of Didier Deschamps’s squad since winning the first of his 29 caps three years ago.
Nicknamed “the Pickaxe”, the 23-year-old, who has scored five goals with Les Bleus and was named the 2014 World Cup’s best young player, left Manchester United for Juventus in 2012, feeling he had been snubbed by Alex Ferguson at the age of 19.
With Juve, he matured into a versatile midfielder with an elegant way of shielding the ball, whose ability to score long-shot goals can prove devastating.
This season, he scored eight goals from 35 Serie A games as he inspired the club to a fourth successive Serie A title.
“I have played with some great young players but Pogba was the best young player I have ever seen,” said former teammate and Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
“We saw from his first training session with Juventus that he was special. You can build a team around him.”
France coach Didier Deschamps has perfectly understood that and has been doing his best both to protect Pogba.
“He’s been doing very well but he can improve, like everyone. I can be tough on him if needed, that’s for his own good,” Deschamps said in March. “I have great faith in him.”
France prevailed at Euro 1984 at home with their ‘Carre Magique’ (Magic Square) of Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana. Thirty-two years on, Pogba could well lead Les Bleus to another European title.
INIESTA AIMS FOR MORE
Andres Iniesta, the driving force behind Spanish triumphs at the last two Euros and scorer of the goal that delivered their only World Cup in between, will hope to provide further inspiration as his country target a record fourth European Championship triumph.
The virtuoso midfielder’s extra-time strike against the Netherlands in Johannesburg in 2010 earned him universal devotion in Spain, with even Real Madrid supporters giving the Barcelona man a standing ovation on his most recent visits to the Bernabeu.
With his trusted midfield companion Xavi Hernandez retired from international football, Iniesta is the last architect of the ‘tiki-taka’ style of fast-moving passing football which Spain mastered to dominate the world game between 2008 and 2012.
OTHERS TO LEAD
Similarly, Germany will look to Mesut Ozil, Belgium will rely on Eden Hazard and Croatia will bank on Luka Modric for their respective campaigns.
Ozil and Modric have come off successful domestic campaigns with the former ending the Premier League season as the highest assist provider while the latter won the Champions League with Real Madrid.
Hazard, however, has the most to play for as he attempts to revive himself from a poor season when he takes up the role of Belgium captain.