June 30, 2014; 5:00 PM BST
Estádio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasília
Monday’s round-of -6 clash between Les Bleus and the Super Eagles from Nigeria will be the first ever meeting between the two sides on the world stage. Both have had contrasting campaigns so far. The French qualified sweeping aside Honduras and Switzerland with scorelines of 3-0 and 5-2, while their draw against a 10-man Ecuador side was the only dark spot in their successful run. What’s been very impressive is the performance of the side in the absence of their key playmaker Franck Ribery. The Bayern winger was expected to carry the French through the tournament, but injury ruled him out of the tournament. Deschamps has certainly found the right combination for this tournament and not since 1998 have the Les Blues looked this lethal.
Nigeria on the other hand held on to the last qualification spot of their group by the skin of teeth. Having being held to a draw by a gutsy Iran, Nigeria scrapped past Bosnia by 1 goal to nil. Needing a draw against Argentina on matchday 3, the Super Eagles lost a thrilling game by 3-2, but Iran’s loss to Bosnia meant the 4 points they had gained were enough. One of the only two African nations to qualify for the round of 16, Nigeria will be quite keen to upset the high-riding French.
Team News & Tactical Brief
1998 World cup winner and current head coach of Les Blues Didier Deschamps has certainly struck the right chord with his side, leading them successfully to the round of 16 without any major hiccups. The French endured a miserable 2010 World cup coupled with disharmony within the team, and Deschamps has certainly gone a long way in burying the ghosts of the last campaign.
One of the key features of France’s group games was the authority and dominance commanded by the trio in the middle of the park. Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye provided the side with the perfect balance between attack and defense, and the smoothness with which they interchanged roles was quite admirable. While Matuidi provided the much need steel in front of defense, his PSG teammate Cabaye was instrumental in taking the ball up front. Paul Pogba playing his first major tournament has looked the most impressive and comfortable of the trio, perfectly playing the support role to his senior partners. Morgan Schneiderlin and Moussa Sissoko played their midfield roles well as against Ecuador but the return of Cabaye post suspension will certainly mean the return of the same midfield trio that tormented Honduras and Switzerland.
21-year-old center back Raphaël Varane has been another surprise package for the Les Blues in this world cup. Expected to play second fiddle to senior defenders in Koscielny, Mangala and Sakho, the Real Madrid man has certainly repaid his gaffer’s faith in him with solid showings in the group stages. He alongside Sakho have been Deschamps preferred center back pairing, and the same should hold true against Nigeria as well. Starting full backs Evra and Debuchy were rested against Ecuador to give Sagna and Digne playing time, but expect the former duo to return for this game.
Up front, little Mathieu Valbuena, Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema have worked like a well oiled machine. The trio’s movement and inter-play has led to much of France’s goals this tournament, and they should hold onto their places for Nigeria.
Possible starting line-up: Lloris (GK); Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye; Valbuena, Benzema, Greizmann
The Super Eagles last qualified for the round of 16 back in 1998 and will be quite pleased to make it this time, despite some very convincing showings to get to this stage. But getting to the next round can be just the boost a side needs, and head coach Keshi will certainly be hoping that’s the case for his men in green. Stephen Keshi has opted for youth in place of experience with many of his starting eleven in the age group of 20-25. Starting with a 4-man midfield against Iran, Keshi went for a 4-3-3 against the likes of Bosnia and Argentina with better success.
Expect him to stick to this against the French as well. CSKA Moscow forward man, 21-year-old Ahmed Musa has been the most impressive with his pace and movement. His brace against Argentina showed everyone what he is capable of. His understanding with Peter Odemwingie and Emmanuel Emenike up front will be key to Nigeria’s progress.
Lazio’s young midfielder Ozani, Chelsea’s Obi Mikel and Michel Babatunde have been the midfield trio for Nigeria against Bosnia and Argentina, with Victor Moses, Azeez and Ejike Uzoenyi coming in on as substitutes. Young Ozani certainly has shown as to why he is regarded as a future star with some inspired showings in the center of the park.
Despite starting with a young backline, Keshi has increasing started to depend on old head Joseph Yobo to marshall the defense. Efe Ambrose had had a good season with Glasgow Celtic but found it difficult in the absence of his senior partner against Iran. A sense of stability was observed when the 33-year-old Yobo came on in the first half against Iran for Godfrey Oboabona. Since then Nigeria have stuck to the same back four of Oshaniwa, Yobo, Ambrose and Omeruo, and expect this to remain unchanged for the game against France.
Possible starting line-up: Nyeama (GK); Oshaniwa, Yobo, Ambrose, Omeruo; Obi Mikel, Ozani, Babatunde; Musa, Odemwingie, Emenike
- This is the first meeting between the two sides on the World Cup stage.
- Nigeria have never progressed beyond the round of 16.
- Custodian Vincent Enyeama is the only Nigerian whose is currently playing in the French League. He plays for Lille.
- France will reach their 7th quarterfinal if they beat Nigeria.
- France have lost to two African nations in the World Cups – Senegal (2002) and SouthAfrica(2010).
Players to Watch Out For
Karim Benzema (France)
Carrying on his Real Madrid form of this season, Karim Benzema has been the main goal scorer for Les Blues thus far in the World Cup. 3 goals in the group stage and playing the role of the target man perfectly, the front man will be key France’s progress.
Ahmed Musa (Nigeria)
Still 21, the CSKA forward is certainly a front-man to watch out for the future. Armed with the lethal combination of pace and finishing, Musa will be a constant headache to the French backline. He’s scored 2 goals this world cup (both against Argentina).
France 2-0 Nigeria
Blast from the Past
Nigeria won 0-1 in a memorable first-ever friendly against France in 2009.