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France's embarrassment of midfield riches

Paul Pogba sparkled while Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko made their case for a round of 16 starting place in Lille; David Crossan assesses France's midfield options.

Everything but the goal: Paul Pogba
Everything but the goal: Paul Pogba ©AFP/Getty Images

Against Switzerland we saw the real Paul Pogba, while Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko proved their international quality and underlined the strength-in-depth France possess in midfield.

Pogba happy with top spot for France
Pogba happy with top spot for France

Paul Pogba
Sunday's first half in Lille was all about Pogba. Restored to the starting line-up after an influential performance off the bench against Albania on Wednesday, Pogba struck the crossbar twice – and almost scored an own goal in the first 45 minutes.

In the French media there has been more debate over Pogba than any other Les Bleus player at this tournament. At ease on the left of the midfield three, more akin to his Juventus position than his usual national-team role on the right, the 23-year-old provided an eloquent riposte to his critics.

So unlucky not to claim his first France goal of the season, his display was praised by boss Didier Deschamps: "He was the player doing things in the first half and he sent in two quality shots. In the second half he didn't get forward as much. He has great potential and I have faith in him. We need Paul to be at his best."

Yohan Cabaye
Replacing N'Golo Kanté, booked against Albania, Cabaye had a storming game at the base of the French midfield, making many well-timed interventions to recover the ball and distributing it in his usual immaculate fashion. Playing in front of his family and friends in the city where he began his professional career brought the best out of the Crystal Palace man, for whom it was a first international start since September.

A first-choice for Les Bleus in the past two international tournaments, the 30-year-old brings a wealth of experience to the squad and in ordinary circumstances could hope for more opportunities. The trouble is that Kanté was second only to Dimitri Payet as France's best in the first two matches.

Cabaye told EURO2016.com: "The most important thing for me is to give everything on the pitch and to have no regrets whatsoever. The coach will make his decisions in the end but he knows he can count on me."

Moussa Sissoko
Like Cabaye, Sissoko started the 5-2 win over Switzerland at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Like Cabaye, Sissoko did not disappoint in Lille, making several trademark powerful surges, including one rampaging run down the right from halfway which culminated in substitute Payet hitting the bar.

The Newcastle midfielder is something of a Deschamps favourite, a player the coach knows he can rely on. Deschamps said: "Starting him wasn't a favour to him. I know what he can do. He's always involved and motivated, whether he plays for five minutes, ten minutes, 20 minutes, or starts. The fact I selected him does not mean I won't start him in the future."

Cabaye and Sissoko, 26, could not have done much more to press their claims. That said, it would be a major surprise not to see a France midfield triumvirate of Pogba, Kanté and Blaise Matuidi in the round of 16 in Lyon on Sunday.