- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

PARIS (AP) - Paul Pogba’s encouraging return to form at the European Championship couldn’t have come at a better time for France.

Though Les Bleus squandered more chances in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Switzerland, the midfielder stood out in the game that guaranteed France top spot in Group A. The result ensured that France will play one of the third-place teams in the round of 16.

“We need Paul to be at his best,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “Paul has a lot of potential and I believe in him.”

Against Switzerland, he went on several trademark rampaging runs and came close to scoring three times in the first half - one 25-meter strike hit the crossbar while another shot from outside the penalty area was saved.

He may not have scored but Pogba’s performance was reminiscent of the form he invariably shows for Italian champion Juventus - if not always for France.

“At the start of the game I was playing higher up and we did very well,” Pogba said, alluding to his preference to play in a more attacking role than usually afforded him by Deschamps.

Widely considered among the world’s best players and valued by some at 100 million euros ($113 million), Pogba scored 20 goals for Juventus last season. He’s been linked to a move to Real Madrid after Euro 2016.

Pogba’s club form hasn’t translated onto the national stage as many observers expected. Some blame coach Deschamps for playing Pogba in a more defense-orientated role.

He has now gone 15 games without a goal for France since last netting against Portugal in October, 2014.

At Euro 2016, the criticism of Pogba was immediate after his flat performance in France’s opening game against Romania. He was then dropped against Albania, coming on as a substitute in the second half.

That early-tournament criticism may be getting to Pogba. He sounded prickly and defensive after the Switzerland game.

“People will always talk, whether it’s positive or negative,” the 23-year-old said on French television. “I don’t have any answers to give, to anyone.”

But his teammates are speaking up for him.

“We know how good he is,” striker Andre-Pierre Gignac said. “Leave him alone.”

Midfielder Moussa Sissoko, impressive against Switzerland with his driving runs from deep, echoed that support.

“Paul hasn’t been spared by the media. People expect a lot from him, but we know what he brings to the squad,” Sissoko said. “We’re happy with Paul. He showed a lot of commitment, he tried different things. Not everything worked, but he’s on the right track.”

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