World Cup contenders usually rely on one pivotal midfielder to progress. Only the French have two.
Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi offer beauty and a beastly presence around the centre circle. They combine finesse and physicality effortlessly. No other side left in the tournament can rival their consistency.
They raise their teammates and rouse fear in opponents. They prey on weakness; picking away at weakened animals until they succumb. Germany will struggle to contain what they cannot stop.
France's dynamic duo keep on coming.
Pogba's play echoes his famed predecessor in that position. He evokes memories of Patrick Vieira in his imperious pomp. Matuidi's languid, leggy runs from box to box draw comparisons to Yaya Toure.
On the world stage, they are the natural successors to the most accomplished central midfielders of their respective generations; the only obvious difference being they wear the same national jersey.
Other countries lean towards a lone ranger in that position. Combative, irrepressible automatons are hard to come by. Didier Deschamps is blessed with a pair of caped crusaders, tearing forward with such courageous tenacity they almost need a superhero theme tune.
Pogba already has one. He has composed a short song that his teammates chant in the dressing room while he dances in the middle, literally the centre of attention.
He is still only 21. Zinedine Zidane hadn't played for Les Bleus at the same age. Pogba already has them dancing to his tune.
Despite being a junior member, he is the self-prescribed motivator of the group. They sway to his rhythm. He can occasionally be a slave to it.
Petulance overruled performance during the opening game against Honduras. Pogba lost his head. Only benign officiating stopped him losing his place on the field. Deschamps publicly challenged him to curtail his temper and dropped him.
Pogba's World Cup threatened to be over before it had really started. His promise had been compromised by his immaturity.
But Deschamps knows which buttons to press. Pogba simmered in the shadows, desperate to make amends. His coach brought him to the boil against Nigeria. His tall, rangy frame allowed him to stride, gazelle-like, past the exhausted Africans.
He scored the goal that shattered the Nigerians and steered France towards the last eight and exuded a quiet power, a reassuring presence that belied his youth. This led to even Vieira himself acknowledging the startling similarities.
This boy can pass, tackle, intercept, drop deep, push forward, shoot and score goals. Just as his youthful impudence makes him marginally less responsible defensively than Vieira was, it also encourages him to attack with greater aplomb.
But, he forms one half of the most accomplished central midfield partnership in the World Cup.
Matuidi takes care of the other.
Pogba's energetic scampering draws the eye away from his partner. His blood and guts campaign leave French flags fluttering, but their steady renaissance owes more to Matuidi.
Smooth, unflappable, reliable and assured, he is the Rolls Royce to Pogba's Ferrari.
When he ventures forward, he becomes a throwback. Perhaps one of the last of the socks-round-the-ankles, box-to-box midfielders, Matuidi's work ethic is remarkable. Pogba offers the effervescence and Yohan Cabaye brings the architect's plans, but Matuidi is the site foreman.
A natural link man, he exudes efficiency, quickly releasing Mathieu Valbuena or Karim Benzema when he's on the left to establish counter-attacks. The ultimate cat burglar, he can be frequently found breaking and entering.
The roving spider cameras hanging inside every World Cup stadium struggle to keep up with him as he stifles an opponent in front of Hugo Lloris' goal before dashing into frame at the other end after an 80-metre raking run. He leaves markers looking like training cones.
Matuidi also plays good cop to Pogba's occasionally bad cop. A picture of serenity, the PSG midfielder seems unfazed by the combustible environment around him.
He rises above the fray, strides away from the squabbling commoners and leads the French forward.
Together, they epitomie the esprit de corps that Deschamps has instilled in his Les Bleus loyalists.
To borrow from the terrace chant, there really was only one Patrick Vieira. But France have Pogba and Matuidi.
Germany could be forgiven for seeing double.
This article was first published on July 3, 2014.
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