Favourites France vow not to repeat the same mistakes of Portugal defeat
It is not uncommon for footballers to take victory for granted against a supposedly inferior opponent but it is for them actually to admit it. So it was startling to hear Paul Pogba do just that yesterday when he blamed overconfidence for France's European Championship final defeat by Portugal.
Pogba refused to sugarcoat his country's shock demise on home soil and vowed not to make the same mistake twice in the World Cup final against Croatia, amid obvious comparisons between the climaxes of the two tournaments.
As at Euro 2016, France saw off their biggest challenger for the world title in the semi-finals this week, beating Belgium in the same manner as they had dispatched Germany two years earlier.
Pogba said: "I am not going to lie. At the Euros, we thought that it was already done. We told ourselves that we had won already after beating Germany, that was the real final for us. We are aware of that now. We don't want to repeat the same mistake. We will prepare differently. We really want to win this final."
The scars of the Portugal defeat run deep for Pogba, who added: "We want to spend a great holiday because the holiday after 2016 was horrible. I still remember it. I know what it means to lose a final. It's a very bitter taste, so we will not prepare for this final the same way we prepared for the last one."
And the Manchester United midfielder is not alone in his determination, with striker Olivier Giroud revealing that the celebrations after Tuesday's semi-final had been more subdued than at the same stage in 2016.
"After the semi-final when we won against Germany, we were a bit euphoric, whereas against Belgium it was different," he said.
"It's not the same feeling - we know we still have one game to win. There's that real focus and concentration to finish the job - that's why it's different.
"We really enjoyed the victory with our families that evening but, from the next day, it was about being focused on Sunday. We've come a long way to get here and we don't want to waste this opportunity now."
One of the big differences between then and now has been Pogba himself, with the midfielder instrumental in France's run to their third World Cup final, having been a passenger two years ago.
A string of disciplined displays by the 25-year-old has even earned him rare praise from United manager Jose Mourinho, who has been critical of the club's record signing in the past.
"It's good to hear praise," said Pogba, admitting he had a "very different" relationship with France manager Didier Deschamps than Mourinho before adding he got on well with both.
It is nevertheless Deschamps who has succeeded in coaxing the kind of performances out of Pogba that have so impressed.
"Deschamps has something special," Pogba said. "He has something very few people have. He has won a World Cup with France, he was a great player, he was a captain, he knows how to talk to players, he knows how to talk to players who are a bit more timid."
Despite warning against complacency, Pogba felt that Kylian Mbappe should not be shy about talking up his talent.
"If he says he is the best, which he hasn't said, but even if he says it, and he shows it on the pitch then I don't see any problem," Pogba said.
"If he says that he wants to win trophies, it's not being pretentious, it's what he wants to do, and he will do everything to win them. He is talented enough to do it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)