France coach Didier Deschamps made clear he expected more from Paul Pogba after the midfielder went missing in the hosts’ last-gasp 2-1 win over Group A rivals Romania in their Euro 2016 opener on Friday.
Pogba, hailed as the most gifted player in the France squad, looked a shadow of his brilliant best on the Stade de France pitch before he was substituted in the 77th minute.
“I made a choice”, Deschamps told a news conference when asked why he replaced Pogba with Anthony Martial.
“I don’t know how many minutes were remaining. I wanted to give us an attacking boost.
We had four attacking players to try to secure the victory. By keeping Dimitri Payet in the heart of the midfield, we had to take off a midfielder.”
It was an inspired decision to leave Payet on the pitch, the West Ham United player curling a superb shot into the top corner with a few seconds left to hand France the three points.
“Paul, of course, can play better than that”, Deschamps said. “I’m not going to be too hard on him but his potential is such that he can contribute more than he showed tonight.”
France looked sluggish at first, nervous on occasion and needed time to get going, never looking like the favourites to win the tournament.
“There were a lot of expectations, there’s so much passion and fervour behind the French national side”, said Deschamps, who captained France to their 1998 World Cup triumph and Euro 2000 title.
“The players are aware of that… so, of course, from a psychological perspective it was in no way easy to manage”, he added.
“I imagine it was very hard for the Romanians to lose a match like that right at the death, but that will give us even greater confidence and calmness” said Deschamps, looking forward to France’s next group games against Albania and Switzerland