Two late goals in the second half ended Nigeria’s dreams of going through to the final eight for the first time in their history. Meanwhile, France set up a mouth-watering clash with Germany in their quarter-final match.
Les Blues started with a full strength squad, having rested Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane among others in their previous match against Honduras. In-form striker Karim Benzema started along with Giroud up front. Paul Pogba provided the impetus in attack playing just behind the strikers. Arsenal man Laurent Koscielny would partner with Patrice Evra, Varane and Debuchy in defence. Yohan Cabaye started in a deep role for breaking down and starting attacks of his own. Blaise Matuidi – who was lucky to be on the pitch for the whole 90 minutes – also started alongside Pogba and Cabaye in a 4-3-3 formation. Man-of-the-match Mathieu Valbuena started on the right wing.
The Super Eagles made only one change to the line-up that took on Argentina, with Victor Moses coming in place of Michael Babatunde who fractured his wrist in that match. Peter Odemwingie and Ahmed Musa would partner Moses in midfield, while Emmanuel Emenike led the line for the African champions. Victor Enyeama – who had been in scintillating form throughout the finals – took his place in goal with Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose, Juwon Oshaniwa and Kenneth Omeruo making up the four-man defence. John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi played the holding role in midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The match started on a hectic note with France starting the brighter of the two sides. Debuchy was at his enterprising best throughout the match, running down the wings providing crosses for Benzema and Giroud. After the initial French attack, Onazi and Musa started providing some attacking flair for Nigeria, which helped slow the tempo of the game and get possession off the Blues.
Nigeria’s endeavour in attack eventually resulted in Emenike putting the ball in the back of the net – albeit illegally, according to the assistant referee. Nigeria started to grow in confidence and controlled the pace of the game for the next few minutes.
The best piece of action in the first half came when Pogba thought he had scored after a brilliant one-two with Valbuena – only to be denied by Enyeama pulling off a stunning save. What a world cup this is turning out to be for goalkeepers – first Casillas’ mistakes, Mexican ‘keeper Ochoa’s brilliance and now the Nigerian goalkeeper’s efforts.
The possession dilly-dallied till the end of the half. Debuchy had a great chance close to the break, but failed to hit the target off a cross from Valbuena. Ironically, most of the French attacks were provided by their defenders with the Newcastle man coming closest to scoring. Benzema and Giroud were missing in action in the first half. On the other hand, Odemwingie and Musa were more enterprising for Nigeria although they failed to create any noteworthy chances apart from the disallowed goal.
The Super Eagles started the better of the two sides in the second period with Ambrose bombing down the wings more often than in the first half. Very early in the second half, French midfielder Matuidi was lucky to escape with only a yellow card as his tackle on Onazi looked late and dangerous – resulting in the latter being stretchered off the field. Onazi was duly replaced by Reuben Gabriel.
Both managers then started to look to freshen up their charges. Antoine Griezmann replaced the ineffective Giroud around the 60th minute hoping to inject some much needed force in the attack. The game eventually became more open owing to the approaching full-time whistle and ultimately, the dreaded extra-time and penalty shootout.
The brilliant Valbuena continued working tirelessly down the wings, providing impetus and building momentum for a French goal. That moment ultimately came in the 79th minute, when Pogba pounced on a mistake by Enyeama and headed in from near the six-yard box off a Valbuena corner. 1-0 to Les Blues.
The lead calmed the French nerves and they started to control possession with Nigeria only putting in a few scattered attacks. This possession and calmness in attack resulted in a second French goal in stoppage time of the second half thanks to Griezmann who headed in to goal off a deflection from Nigerian defender Yobo- 2-0 to Les Blues.
And 2-0 is how it finished. The French go through the quarters for the first time since 2006 where they will clash with Germany. Nigerians, on the other hand, head back to their homeland having made the football-mad country proud of their efforts during these finals. Victor Enyeama has been rightly hailed as a hero back home and deserved a much better exit than his unfortunate mistake leading to the Pogba goal
The French look like they are yet to hit top gear and will have to significantly improve against the mighty Germans if they are to progress. In what is expected to be a top-notch clash, Les Blues will be counting on the likes of Giroud and Benzema to fire on all cylinders if they hope to repeat their achievement of 1998.