The Rio Report

Seven Truths: Pogba still making United wonder what might have been

The Rio Report

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Paul Pogba is pretty good, on balance

"It was the match against Blackburn in December 2011 at Old Trafford. Paul Scholes had retired, Darren Fletcher was injured. There was no one left to play in midfield... and there was Rafael in midfield and I was disgusted. I was disgusted and I didn't get on either." Paul Pogba's departure from Manchester United might not have been entirely down to that fateful game against Blackburn, but their fans must curse Ferguson's decision that day every time they see the Frenchman put in a performance like the one against Nigeria. Pogba was magnificent, proving that he is perhaps the complete midfielder with forward runs, tackling, passing and of course the goal that basically won the game for France. If United want him back, they will have to pay the thick end of £60million. Ah, what could've been.

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More leniency from the referees

This World Cup has been, as we all know, magnificent. There have been few things to complain about in regards to the football, even if the wisdom of hosting a tournament like this in a country with the social issues of Brazil is questionable at best. However, one blight on it has been some overly-lenient refereeing, which was on display in France's win over Nigeria. Blaise Matuidi was incredibly fortunate not to be sent off for a bad foul on Ogenyi Onazi, which saw the Nigerian midfielder taken off on a stretcher, referee Mark Geiger only deeming it worth a yellow card. Of course in previous tournaments referees have been a little card-happy, brandishing reds all over the place, but this year they seem to have gone too far the other way.

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Who'd want to be a keeper?

This is one of the reasons why kids never want to go in goal when they're playing in the park. For 99 per cent of Nigeria's win defeat to France Vincent Enyeama, their captain, figurehead and best player, was superb, producing a number of fine saves to keep his team in the game. However, his one error was the turning point in the game, as he dashed out to claim a cross that was never really his, only succeeding in palming it onto the head of Pogba, who gave France the lead. Perhaps Enyeama's decision to advance so far off his line was influenced by his defence, a keeper that had no confidence in the men ahead of him and therefore felt he had to do everything himself. Whatever the truth about his motivation, despite all his good work, the game will be remembered for the mistake. Such is the life of a goalkeeper.

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Mind over matter for Germany

“In the end it was a victory for willpower,” said Jogi Loew said after Germany only just earned their place in the quarter-final by beating Algeria. “In reality, we should have decided the game in normal time. We created a lot of chances.” It's true, and they spurned most of those opportunities, but the Germans showed their extraordinary mental strength to eventually power past their opponents, hammering away at the Algerians until they could no longer keep them out. “In extra-time all the players were at their limit,” Loew continued. “Sometimes in tournaments you have matches like this where you have to fight until the end.” And fight to the end they did, which could well serve them well in the games to come.

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Lahm in midfield – time to end the experiment?

A frequent accusation levelled at Pep Guardiola is that he tries to be a little too clever, to try things just because, and not for any real practical reason. Playing Philipp Lahm in midfield is perhaps the ultimate Guardiola contrarian move, and Loew has copied him at this World Cup. Given that's where Lahm has played for much of this season it might not be the least logical move in the world, but only if there are competent replacements at full-back, which at present there are not. Benedikt Hoewedes is a centre-back by trade and Shkodran Mustafi has looked a liability, weakening the side significantly. Lahm's presence in the middle is partly motivated by Sami Khedeira's fitness issues and Christoph Kramer's inexperience, but Loew must consider before the quarter-final where Lahm is more useful to the team. On this evidence, and with the lack of other options in defence, that currently looks like full-back.

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Ozil must up his game

Germany's 'strikerless' formation relies on a few things, one of which of course is for Thomas Mueller to be on form, but also for his supporting cast to provide enough creativity to allow him to do what he does. However, that creativity didn't come from Mesut Ozil against Algeria, because he was terrible, constantly giving the ball away and making poor decisions when trying to launch attacks. Ozil may have scored the goal that eventually wrapped up the game for Germany, but his all-round play will be a concern for Loew, and might give him cause to rethink his forward line for the quarter-final against France. After impressing as a substitute and scoring the opening goal, Andre Schurrle might be a candidate to start in place of Ozil, who simply isn't offering what Germany need him to at the moment.

Algeria: so long, farewell

This most magnificent of World Cups has generally been pretty ruthless about getting rid of the inadequate, the dull and those that just don't belong. England, Italy and Spain all performed badly and were duly eliminated, but very few teams have gone out with the impression that the tournament will be a poorer place without them. Algeria certainly fall into that category, their wonderfully naïve attacking style making them an absolute joy to watch, and it was only because their final ball often wasn't quite good enough that they didn't bury Germany quite early on. After what will be his final game in charge of Algeria, Vahid Halilhodžić cried, knowing that something extraordinary has come to an end. We all know how you feel, Vahid.

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