Paul Pogba deserves some slack and more Denmark v France talking points

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Denmark and France face-off on Tuesday evening at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (18:00 kick-off UAE time).

Les Bleus have already qualified for the knockout stage with two consecutive victories over Australia and Peru but need a draw against the Scandinavian outfit to confirm top spot in Group C.

That would see Didier Deschamps’ men go up against the second-place team from Group D in the second round – possibly Argentina or Nigeria – rather than in-form Croatia.

Meanwhile, the Danes – on four points – are not yet mathematically sure of a top-two berth. Should the Aussies beat Peru and Denmark lose to France, the Aussies could clinch qualification on goal difference. A win, however, would see Denmark finish at the summit.

Here, we assess the key talking points before the match gets underway.

Cut the Pog some slack

Is there a footballer in the world who has copped more stick than Paul Pogba over the last couple of years?

The answer is probably not.

The Manchester United midfielder’s inconsistencies, as well as flashes of brilliance, have been well-documented since his then world-record transfer back to Old Trafford in the summer of 2016 from Juventus. Some of it fair, some of it unjust.

All the same, it has begged the question of when will this man mountain of a midfielder, aged 25, truly come of age?

We have had our answer in France’s first two group games. Pogba’s level has been solid if not spectacular but he has changed the course of both games and really kick-started Les Bleus’ stagnant campaign.

His deflected winner against Australia, following a well-timed run into the box, helped Deschamps’ side to all three points in the opener. In the same game, let’s not forget, he supplied Antoine Griezmann with a defence-splitting pass, putting the striker clean through on goal, in an incident which led to a crucial penalty decision via VAR.

And then, against Peru, he pounced brilliantly on the South American side’s loose possession in midfield and helped France burst forward as Kylian Mbappe eventually turned in Olivier Giroud’s effort.

He has certainly risen to the occasion and is answering his critics. Indeed, he could well inflict misery on another.

Denmark coach Age Hareide was recently critical of Pogba’s many different hair fads, overblowing the Frenchman’s focus on image off the pitch rather than substance on it.

Pogba bit his tongue, a bit, when responding to a question about Hareide’s remarks in a press conference on Sunday, saying: “I should have dyed my hair red. But seriously, we’ll do the talking on the pitch.”

You can be confident he will do just that as he and France try to build momentum for the next phase. Expect Pogba to leave it all out there, after all, he also revealed it could be his last World Cup.

France's midfielder Paul Pogba attends a press conference in Istra, west of Moscow on June 24, 2018, during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. - Denmark will play France in their Russia 2018 World Cup Group C football match at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on June 26, 2018. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Cool customer: Paul Pogba.

Do Denmark play for a draw or throw caution to the wind?

A point will seal the Danes’ progress regardless of Australia’s result, with the Socceroos playing at the same time in Sochi.

Denmark have been combustive if not too pleasing on the eye so far and will be without the services of Yussuf Poulsen – the man who got the winner in the 1-0 win over Peru – given he is serving a suspension having being shown yellow cards for remarkably conceding a VAR-inflicted penalty in both games so far.

Key man William Kvist, who returned home for treatment on his cracked ribs and a punctured lung sustained while clashing with the South American side, is expected to miss out also.

As ever, the nation’s mercurial No.10, Christian Eriksen, will be charged with taking proceedings to France.

His first-half volleyed finish against Australia was simply supreme, as is his recent record for the Danish Dynamite which includes 13 goals in his past 15 games and five assists.

20 years ago, these two teams clashed, remarkably in Group C again at France 98′ and in the final pool game.

That day at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France won 2-1 but both teams progressed in one-two positions.

Denmark would no doubt settle for a similar circumstance on Tuesday, even if it means they lose the game.

Denmark's midfielder Christian Eriksen (R) attends a training session in Vityazevo on June 22, 2018, during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Talismanic midfielder: Christian Eriksen.

Time for Griezmann to hit full gear?

Tipped by many to wrestle a firm stranglehold over the Golden Boot, the Atletico Madrid striker has perhaps shown signs of fatigue following a long season and intensive speculation over his future which has now been rectified.

His penalty goal against Australia aside, Griezmann is adapting to a new deeper role, behind Olivier Giroud, and therefore has a less direct route through the heart of the opposition than normal.

He is though still averaging four shots on goal per game in each of his outings so far but needs to kick fully into gear if he is to match his tally of six strikes at Euro 2016.

Having Giroud as a foil in attack, in the long run, should be of his benefit in this tournament.

However, it is fair to say the jury is still out though over whether Deschamps’ sudden tactical tweak to 4-2-3-1 from his much-fabled 4-4-2 system will reap instant benefits for a squad boasting that ‘Golden Generation’ tag once again.

France's forward Antoine Griezmann controls the ball during a training session at the Glebovets stadium in Istra, on June 23, 2018, during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Can France get the very best out of Griezmann?

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England will go 'all out' against Belgium in final group stage game, says Jordan Henderson

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Jordan Henderson celebrates in England's 6-1 win over Panama.

Jordan Henderson insists England will be going all out to beat Belgium in their final World Cup group game and believes the Three Lions are ready for whoever they will face in the knockout stages.

A resounding 6-1 win over Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday assured England of their place in the last 16 with a game to spare.

That final match comes against Belgium on Thursday, with the Red Devils also through having won their opening two games.

As things stand, there is an argument it could be better to finish second in Group G, as doing so might help avoid some of the World Cup’s biggest names, who have so far struggled to get going in Russia.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has admitted he is tempted to make alterations to his side and rest key players, while England’s Gareth Southgate could yet follow suit.

But, whichever side takes to the pitch in Kaliningrad, Henderson is certain the only thing on their minds will be securing a 100 per cent record in Group G.

“Our thinking is we are ready to take on any opponent,” he told the London Evening Standard.

“I’m not too sure what might happen in the draw later on, I’m not thinking that way. We are just concentrating on beating Belgium.

“We want to keep winning, we want to top the group, we want to keep this run going.

“If you want to do well in the World Cup, you have to defeat good teams anyway so it doesn’t really matter who you get.”

The Liverpool skipper believes trying to plot a course dependent on which teams could be faced later in the tournament is not the way to go and is keen to keep a winning feeling among the England camp.

“There is no chance of us taking our foot off the pedal. We want to build on our performances so far, we want our level to keep improving, to keep getting better,” he added.

“It gives you momentum, it gives you rhythm. You want to keep that going right the way through the tournament.

“We don’t want to be thinking too far into things and getting caught up in all that sort of stuff. Top teams win games, it’s as simple as that.”

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Dele Alli takes part in England training session following thigh injury

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The Spurs midfielder is making positive progress.

The Tottenham midfielder has been struggling with a minor thigh injury suffered in the opening win over Tunisia and was not risked as the Three Lions secured a 6-1 victory over Panama to reach the last 16.

None of the side which started against Panama in Nizhny Novgorod were part of the light session back at Zelenogorsk but the players who came off the bench – Jamie Vardy, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose – were involved.

Manager Gareth Southgate led the session and it remains to be seen if he will make alterations to his side for the final game of Group G as England face Belgium in what is essentially a play-off for top-spot.

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