Amsterdam (AFP) – A searing first-half strike from Paul Pogba handed France a 1-0 win at rivals the Netherlands as Belgium and Portugal clocked up 6-0 victories and Christian Benteke grabbed a slice of World Cup qualifying history.
Criticised by coach Didier Deschamps for his performance in Friday’s 4-1 win over Bulgaria in Paris, the world’s most expensive footballer emphatically replied with a towering display for Les Bleus in Amsterdam in the most eye-catching fixture on Monday.
The Manchester United midfielder’s powerful hit from 25 metres out after half an hour left diving Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg able to get his hands to the fizzing ball but unable to stop it.
“I didn’t speak to him (Pogba), I just said a few words to him before entering the changing rooms, ‘I have confidence in you,'” said Deschamps.
“The match confirms what he is able to do. Pogba was much better in everything he did. He showed what he can do.
“We never doubted he could do it. We mustn’t forget Paul is relatively young and he can still progress.”
France, losing finalists on home soil at Euro 2016, are equal on seven points at the top of Group A with Sweden, who beat Bulgaria 3-0 at home in Solna. The two countries will play on November 11 at the Stade de France.
Pogba, 23, was imperial in front of a central defence made up of Raphael Varane and Laurent Koscielny, who pushed back wave after wave of Dutch attacks.
And Pogba nearly doubled his account with a header off a Dimitri Payet corner on 66 minutes just lacking power.
“If the team has a good match, I have a good match,” said a defiant Pogba. “If it’s a bad match, I have a bad match.
“We’re not going to talk about individual performances. It’s true it’s not always nice to hear criticism, ‘bad things’ about myself. There wasn’t any answer. Today it was a good team effort.”
The French had a slight scare in the final minute but Hugo Lloris did well to keep out a Memphis Depay effort on the line.
“It’s an important win for us, even if we could have had a larger lead,” said Deschamps.
“We could have hurt them more in the first half. It’s good to have got these two victories.”
The Dutch failed to make it to the Euros and now sit third in the group, needing to improve fast if they are to make it to Russia in 2018.