France coach Didier Deschamps hailed Paul Pogba’s “great, great potential” after the midfielder put a difficult week behind him to shine in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Switzerland at Euro 2016.
The Juventus star was one of few bright spots in a drab final Group A game at Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy, twice clipping the crossbar and testing Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer with a crisp half-volley.
Pogba created a scandal after appearing to celebrate a goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Albania with an explicit arm pump known in French as a ‘bras d’honneur’, but Deschamps was pleased with his display against the Swiss after restoring the 23-year-old to the starting XI.
“Paul was the animator of the game in the first half,” said Deschamps, whose side progressed to the last 16 as group winners.
“He had two quality strikes. After, in the second half, he got forward less. But he has great, great potential and I have confidence in him, of course.
“He only didn’t start the last match (against Albania) because we had three matches in nine days and we got back very, very late from Marseille.
“It’s also because of that that I brought in a bit of freshness (making five changes). We need Paul at his highest level.”
The result meant that France, who also struck the bar through substitute Dimitri Payet, will play the third-place team in either Group C, D or E in the last 16 in Lyon on June 26.
“We were there to secure first place and we did it, so it’s mission accomplished,” Deschamps said.
“Technically, this Swiss team do some nice things, but we had the better chances. Had we been a bit more clinical or had more luck, we could have won.
“In terms of control, we need to do better so we can avoid having to defend a bit too much.”
Despite his satisfaction with the outcome of the match, Deschamps could not disguise his disappointment with a dry, patchy playing surface that made fluid football difficult.
“The players did well (in the circumstances),” he said. “Even the one we had in Marseille was better.
“It’s sad. I don’t know who’s responsible, but we’re only in the group stage and to see a pitch in a state like that is really not a good thing.”
His comments were echoed by his Switzerland counterpart Vladimir Petkovic, who said that the pitch had “hampered the quality of the game”.
A point was also enough to secure Switzerland’s place in the last 16, where they will face either Poland, Northern Ireland or world champions Germany in Saint-Etienne on June 25.
“We’re through, so we now need to rest up and recover our energy levels. Now other teams have to earn the right to play us,” said Petkovic.
“I think all three potential opponents are good. We played Poland in a friendly (drawing 2-2 last November), and they’re an excellent side.
“Nothing more needs to be said about Germany. And Northern Ireland are a possible surprise. They’re pretty solid too.
“We’ll come up against a side in a knockout game. We’ll be playing to win, not just gain credit.”
The only embarrassment for Switzerland was the state of their shirts, with no fewer than four players sustaining large rips to their jerseys over the course of the game.
“It can happen,” said Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who was chosen as man of the match by former France striker David Trezeguet.
“That means it was a fight on the pitch, that we had a lot of duels. It can happen on the pitch that a jersey can fail. Today we had a lot.
“I can’t say we have to change because (shirt manufacturer) Puma is great!”