BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Paul Pogba finally delivered the big-game goal that France needed from its most exciting young talent, picking his spot with a late header to help his team beat Nigeria 2-0 and reach the World Cup quarterfinals.
The 21-year-old Pogba had been feeling the pressure at the World Cup, and that seemed set to continue Monday when he rushed a chance to put France ahead in a tightly-contested first half.
But Pogba, who was dropped by coach Didier Deschamps for the 5-2 win group-stage win over Switzerland, found the ideal time to score.
Showing the kind of poise that Deschamps counted on him to provide, Pogba peeled slightly off a packed Nigeria defense to give himself a yard to attack the loose ball after goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama fumbled a corner in the 79th minute.
Overwhelmed with relief at finally scoring his first goal of the tournament, Pogba shed a tear after the final whistle before being mobbed by his teammates.
"I was man of the match today but if I could give it to all the players I would. It's because of them that we won," he said. "We know we're capable of playing our best and playing our worst, but today we were good. We are the French national team and we are not afraid of anyone."
Pogba had set himself apart for different reasons earlier in the tournament.
In the opening match against Honduras, he was lucky not to be sent off for kicking out angrily at fellow midfielder Wilson Palacios after he had been fouled. That prompted rebukes from Deschamps, defender Patrice Evra and captain Hugo Lloris — all of them saying Pogba needed to learn how to control his nerves better.
Then, in the 0-0 draw against Ecuador, he missed a glaring header from close range when totally unmarked. French critics made it clear they'd been expecting more from Pogba, who scored seven league goals for Italian champion Juventus last season.
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