Saturday’s brace of World Cup games will go down in history as the day we saw the end of the Ronaldo/Messi axis of greatness on the international stage. Although there’s always the possibility that either of both of modern football’s most gifted talents will make themselves available for Qatar 2022, the chances are slim at best and the likelihood is we’ll never engage in the debate that’s fuelled many a journalist’s pen over the past decade.
On a day when the headlines should almost exclusively been ones mourning the loss of two legends, a player who more than any has been debated over, criticised and lauded in equal measure was reminding the world that while the Cristiano and Lionel international roadshow may be coming to an end, in the word’s of those soft-rock siblings the Carpenters, when it comes to Paul Pogba, “we’ve only just begun.”
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Kylian Mbappe’s pace may have been the talking point for most pundits, but even the most ardent Pogba critics – of which there are many – couldn’t deny the midfielder had played the part of conductor to the 19 year-old’s virtuoso performance against Argentina.
The 4-3 second round win over the South Americans didn’t just push Les Bleus closer to doubling their World Cup winning tally, it gave the world one of the greatest, most entertaining games of football, we’ve seen at an international tournament. Ever.
There were goals, penalties, handbags, more goals, sublime skills, comebacks, more handbags and a turbo charged 19 year-old who made Usain Bolt look like a geriatric with a dodgy knee who’s just climbed a set of stairs. Mbappe was a joy to watch as he burst through the Argentinian defence, causing Marcos Rojo so many problems that the United man was subbed at half-time, or should that be put out of his misery.
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Not that Rojo’s replacement, Federico Fazio fared any better as the Roma defender resembled an unarmed Christian who’d been thrown to the lions at the Coliseum, it was almost perverse watching him trying to succeed where Rojo had failed as Mbappe ran riot.
While the Paris Saint Germain attacker was the talk of France, and indeed the world, it was Pogba who many tipped their hat to, the Paul Scholes to Mbappe’s Andy Cole, the Michael Carrick to his Wayne Rooney, the Marouane Fellaini to his Romelu Lukaku. Okay, you can scratch that last one.
Pogba picked out passes other men can only dream off, at one point sending an 80 yard ball on to his team mates foot with all the accuracy of a ballistic missile and equally as dangerous.
It wasn’t just the range of passing that Pogba produced that was excellent, he was able to mix it up to challenging his opponents, drawing fouls, moving the ball past them and generally running the show from the centre of midfield.
The United midfielder has often suffered from extremes when it comes to his critics, he’s either the worst player on the planet, according to those who dislike him, or the greatest ever to those who love him. On Saturday it was undoubtedly for latter and United fans have every right to be excited at the prospect of Pogba bringing that type of excellence to Old Trafford next season.
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