Pogba Dedicates France’s Semi-Final Win to Freed Thai Footballers
Paul Pogba paused after the biggest win of his international career to dedicate it to the Thai soccer team whose last members were freed from a flooded cave hours earlier.
The France midfielder took to Twitter shortly after France beat Belgium late Tuesday to advance to the World Cup final. He posted the boys' photos and said the victory "goes to the heroes of the day, well done boys, you are so strong."
(For complete FIFA World Cup 2018 coverage, click here to visit our special WC page.)
Samuel Umtiti's 51st-minute header at St Petersburg Stadium sent the French into the final, where they will be seeking their second win since 1998 - when coach Didier Deschamps captained them on home soil.
The last of the 12 boys and their coach were freed earlier in the day from a cave where they had been trapped for more than two weeks.
FIFA had invited the team to the World Cup final on Sunday but the governing body announced the boys wouldn't be able to attend since they are receiving medical treatment after their ordeal.
Following the win, France coach Deschamps spoke about the character of his young team.
"It was exceptional," Deschamps said in a pitchside interview.
"I'm very happy for my players, we showed character and the right mentality, it was very hard for us tonight. We worked hard defensively.
"We had to take advantage a bit more in the counter attacks. but congratulations to my players and my staff. I feel very proud for my group," said Deschamps, who is aiming to join Germany's Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil's Mario Zagallo as the only men to have won the World Cup as both a player and a manager.
"Forty-nine days together, it is a lot of things, difficult things, the group stage, it is the merit of everyone."
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also proud of his players despite the defeat.
"Unfortunately for us the difference was a dead-ball situation. The game was very close, very tight and it was going to be decided by a little bit of luck in front of goal," said the Spaniard.
"I thought the attitude of the players was magnificent and I couldn't ask for any more. The players gave everything and were pushing until the last second to get back in the game.
"That's the detail you get in the semi-final of the World Cup.
"We're disappointed, we wanted to get into the final, we need to put this behind us and look forward to the next game. We need to go out on a real high, these players deserve that."
Goalscorer Umtiti said the win had come on the back of the work of the entire team.
"A lot of pride," said the defender. "We worked hard ... I scored but we delivered a good match and I'm very proud of everyone. They worked in '98 and we worked today, we reached out target to get to the final, I'm very satisfied."
(With inputs from AP and Reuters)
(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)