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Pavard continues meteoric rise with stunner for France

June 30, 2018

Kylian Mbappe's double will hog headlines but Benjamin Pavard's wonder strike against Argentina was the turning point. The Stuttgart man was a leftfield selection for France and his rise to prominence has been rapid.

WM2018 Argentinien Frankreich
Image: Getty Images/C.Ivill

In November, during a break from his German lesson, Benjamin Pavard learned that France boss Dider Deschamps had called him up to the senior squad for the first time.

Relatively unknown in his homeland, Deschamps had seen enough from the 22-year-old's displays in a Stuttgart defense that ended last season as the Bundesliga's second best to take a punt on a player allowed to leave Lille for just €5 million in 2016.

Read more:Top 10 Bundesliga under-21s

"Benjamin does not have the international experience but I like young players and he has got the quality required," Deschamps said, before handing him a debut against Wales on November 10.

If that initial call up was a shock, Pavard's selection in France's final 23 for Russia was slightly less so. Normally a center back at Stuttgart, Deschamps has used his young charge at right back, a problem position for Les Bleus. The switch hasn't fazed Pavard, who was confident enough to compare himself to one of France's World Cup '98 winning heroes.

Benjamin Pavard was ever-present for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga last season
Benjamin Pavard was ever-present for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga last seasonImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Maurer

Shades of Thuram

"[Lilian] Thuram played in central defence for his club and as a right-back for his country. Why shouldn't I have a career like him?" Pavard said in an interview with goal.com's German site.

Thuram famously scored the only two goals of his international career in the semifinal against Croatia in 1998. And it seems Pavard also knows how to pick his moment. After dominating the first half against Argentina only to go in level at the interval, France fell behind shortly after the break and looked a little out of ideas.

Then a ball bounced out to Pavard. Rather than taking a touch, the defender gambled, cutting across the ball and sending an outrageous strike spinning and arcing over Franco Armani. The technique would have been remarkable from Lionel Messi or Antoine Griezmann but to see it from a defender was truly exceptional, even if Spain's Nacho scored a similar effort against Portugal in the group stages. France took heart from the strike, eventually winning 4-3.

The confidence in even attempting such a difficult skill at such a critical moment has been apparent throughout Pavard's relatively short career. Leaving Lille, the club he'd been with since the age of nine, was a bold move, particularly with Stuttgart languishing in the 2. Bundesliga at the time.

Pavard (center) celebrates with his French teammates
Pavard (center) celebrates with his French teammatesImage: Reuters/C.G. Rawlins

A man in demand

"I didn't have the confidence of the coach. Even when I did play, it was in various positions but not as a centre-back," he said when he departed the French side. But since moving to Germany he's found a club willing to back him. Pavard played every minute last term as Stuttgart finished 7th in their first season back in the top flight, with both Hannes Wolf and the man who replaced him, Tayfun Korkut clearly holding him in high regard.

Though his profile was already growing rapidly after an outstanding 2017-18, a strike of that quality on the world stage will undoubtedly pique the interest of clubs much bigger than Stuttgart. But the Bundesliga side's sporting director Michael Reschke insisted ahead of the tournament that their prized asset was not for sale.

"If they want to sign him for €30m, they are wrong. We won't even pick up the phone."

Many more performances like the one on Saturday and Stuttgart's phone will be ringing hot.