Commentary

French talisman Benjamin Pavard is overnight sensation

Every four years, players come out of nowhere to make a name for themselves at the World Cup.

In March, after the final friendly matches before preliminary rosters needed to be submitted to FIFA, Benjamin Pavard was not on anyone's list of 23 players France would take to the World Cup.

Outside of the north of France, where he grew up in the town of Jeumont, on the Belgium border, Pavard was not well known, having played just one season at Ligue 1 club Lille before moving to Germany's VfB Stuttgart in 2016.

By Saturday night, Pavard was a national hero, and the next day French media descended on Jeumont (population: 9,700) to learn the story of the 22-year-old who scored the goal of the World Cup with a spinning side-volley, the first of three goals France scored in 11 minutes to beat Argentina, 4-3.



Much has been written about the players who hail from the banlieues of Paris -- French stars like Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi -- but talent prospers across France.

Pavard followed in the footsteps of his father, Frederic, who played for the local third division team, and left home at the age of 9 to live with host families in Lille, where he joined the youth academy of the club that produced Belgian star Eden Hazard.

Pavard's natural position is center back, which he plays in the Bundesliga, and he is certainly not a goal-scorer with only two goals in 76 pro matches.

An injury to starting right back Djibril Sidibe in mid-April forced French coach Didier Deschamps to change his plans, and he took Pavard over veteran Mathieu Debuchy, who started at the 2014 World Cup. Sidibe started in France's final warm-up game against the USA, but Pavard came off the bench to set up Kylian Mbappe for the tying goal in the 1-1 draw.

Before the game against the USA, Deschamps said the match was not going to change who played, but both left back Lucas Hernandez, another late addition to the team, and Pavard parlayed their strong showings in the match at the Groupama Stadium to move ahead of Benjamin Mendy and Sidibe, both of whom were not 100 percent.

Pavard had been whistled for the foul that led to the free kick that resulted in Argentina's go-ahead goal in the second half. He said he had dreamed of setting up a goal in the game, not score a goal. On his shot, he said all he was thinking was to put his shot on goal. Which was better than he had done when he had a similar chance in the opening match against Australia or when he works his volleying at practice.

"In training," Pavard joked afterwards, "I once killed a pigeon."

Back in Jeumont, Pavard's goal and France's victory set off wild celebrations. Residents had gathered for a viewing party in the waiting room of the local training station, usually used as a dance hall on weekends. And after the match, no one could get in or out of town with everyone celebrating in the streets.

And across France, everyone has taken notice of the Bleus' talisman. Pavard has played for France 28 times -- nine with the senior national team -- and it has never lost a game.

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