PARIS (AP) — France coach Didier Deschamps has rewarded teenage Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba for his fine recent form by calling him up for World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and reigning European and world champion Spain.
France plays Georgia on March 22 and Spain four days later, and two wins will guarantee France taking over top spot in a five-team group from which only one team qualifies automatically for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Deschamps said Thursday that he has watched the 19-year-old Pogba playing in the past two games and quickly made his mind up. "He is a player for the future and the future starts now for him. I want to see him with us, within the squad and at training," Deschamps said. "You can ask yourself if it's the right moment. He's played 20-odd games in Serie A and six in the Champions League. I watched him in the last two games. He strikes the ball well and uses it well."
Pogba has scored five league goals this season, most of them from outside of the penalty area. "I'm shocked and emotional. It hasn't sunk in. But after the dream there is the objective, and the objective is to stay in the squad now," Pogba said on RMC radio. "I was at training, and I got out of the shower and saw I had a lot of missed calls. I spoke to my (agent) and he was the one who told me. It's more than important for me, because when I was small my objective was always to play for the France team."
Pogba says he has been picking things up quickly by watching veteran Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo. "He knows what to do with the ball in any part of the field," Pogba said. "He knows everything because he started so young."
Deschamps also selected 19-year-old Real Madrid center back Raphael Varane, who played with maturity beyond his years in recent performances against Barcelona and Real Madrid. "Varane has a lot of potential and in the past few weeks he has been playing in the center of Real Madrid's defense," Deschamps said. "H'Se played against teams of the highest level like Real Madrid and Manchester United within the space of a week."
Star winger Franck Ribery was called up despite missing Bayern Munich's Champions League match against Arsenal on Wednesday because of a twisted left ankle. Queens Park Rangers forward Loic Remy was also chosen.
"Franck had a problem with his ankle in the last match, it was very painful for him the next day and the day after," Deschamps said. "Things are going better for him and if all goes well he should start training at the end of the week. He probably won't play this weekend and then we will see with our medical staff when he joins up with us."
Remy has 17 caps for France but has not played for the national team since November 2011. However, he has hit form after a spell out with injury, and his speed could prove useful on the wing if Ribery fails to regain full fitness.
"He's had a few injuries but he's been playing regularly again and has scored in his last two games," Deschamps said. "He has different attributes to the other attacking players. He can play in several positions, on the left, on the right or through the middle, that's why he is interesting, because one of qualities is his speed."
Winning the group is up for grabs as France is level with Spain on seven points after securing a 1-1 draw away to the Spanish. But Deschamps is warning his players not to think too far ahead. "The most important match is the Georgia one," Deschamps said. "We have to focus on this match to make sure we have 10 points before playing Spain."
Deschamps left out injury-prone Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby.
Goalkeepers: Mickael Landreau (Lille), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Gael Clichy (Manchester City), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Christophe Jallet (Paris Saint-Germain), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (Newcastle).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Maxime Gonalons (Lyon), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon), Jeremy Menez (Paris Saint-Germain), Loic Remy (Queens Park Rangers), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich).