There wasn’t a comeback that has been the vogue in this World Cup in the match between France and Nigeria but nonetheless this was an entertaining game that went from end to end. Stephen Keshi prepared his side well and the Super Eagles looked dangerous going forward, causing a lot of grief down their right and making life difficult for the French.
Didier Deschamps opted to have Olivier Giroud spearheading the attack and whilst the French did create a number of chances, the balance of the side was a little upset. France only found their attacking verve after the introduction of Antoine Griezmann, in place of Giroud, and the substitution played a big part in securing a quarterfinal spot for Les Bleus.
1. Attack is the best form of defense
In keeping with the spirit of this World Cup both France and Nigeria did not wait for things to happen and instead took turns to go forward.
France played a fluid formation switching from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 with Olivier Giroud initially acting as the main striker whilst Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema played off the Arsenal forward. The fullbacks Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy linked up with the attack providing width and an outlet for sweeping French moves. Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi took it in turns to join the forwards with the former having probably the best chance of the first half. Pogba started a move passing the ball in the 22nd minute to the busy Valbuena whose cross found the Juventus midfielder. Pogba struck the ball sweetly only to see Vincent Enyeama, who’s had a good tournament, pull off a stunning save.
Nigeria employed a 4-4-1-1 system with Peter Odemwingie playing off Emmanuel Emenike and used their pace and power to good effect. They played the width of the pitch to stretch the game and had the ball in the back of the net when Emenike met Ahmed Musa’s cross but the striker was judged to be marginally offside.
With both sets of fullbacks willing to go forward to join the attack perhaps it’s not surprising that both Nigeria and France had joy down the flanks exploiting the space in the wide areas when the ball was turned over.
2. Should Giroud and Matuidi have seen red cards?
In the 31st minute Olivier Giroud flung his arms with his elbow coming dangerously close to John Obi Mikel’s face. The referee decided to take a lenient view of the incident but it was a reckless thing to do and on another day Giroud could have seen red.
Even luckier to be on the pitch was Blaise Matuidi whose studs in the 55th minute caught the ankle of the unfortunate Ogenyi Onazi who had to be replaced as a result of the challenge. The tackle itself was not malicious and there certainly wasn’t any intent but that does not matter in the laws of the game. There’s an obligation from each player to show duty of care and Matuidi’s tackle though honest was reckless and dangerous. He’s lucky that Mark Geiger was in a forgiving mood as he dished out a yellow for the tackle. Had he produced a red Matuidi would have had little cause for complaint.
3. Super Eagles play football the ‘right’ way
Nigeria looked extremely dangerous down the right exposing the lack of protection Karim Benzema provided Patrice Evra and the propensity of the Manchester United left back to get forward. Time and time again Nigerian players found space on their right flank and got in dangerous crosses or cut in to test Hugo Lloris as Odemwingie did in the 64th minute.
It wasn’t a huge surprise that Didier Deschamps changed things by introducing Antoine Griezmann for the laboring Giroud. The substitution allowed Karim Benzema to play in a central role whilst giving France more balance as Griezmann provided natural width.
The move liberated France as the pair exchanged a clever one-two before Benzema had a strike on goal only for it to be cleared off the line by Victor Moses. Indeed it was a match-winning change.
4. Main man makes a difference in his main position
It was an odd decision by Didier Deschamps to start Olivier Giroud as the main striker. It forced Karim Benzema to play out on the left and whilst he did okay the Real Madrid man was clearly not comfortable operating in a wider area.
It took 62 minutes for Deschamps to recognize that the tactics were not working and replaced Giroud with the impressive Antoine Griezmann. Almost immediately the French attack clicked into gear as the Real Sociedad man stretched the play on the left whilst allowing Karim Benzema to operate centrally and cause the Nigerian defense all sorts of problems.
The Super Eagles seemed to have no response to France’s sharper cutting edge. Yohan Cabaye crashed a shot off the bar in the 76th minute after John Obi Mikel hacked away a Benzema effort.
Shortly after that Vincent Enyeama pulled off another sensational save to deny Karim Benzema a goal clawing away the striker’s header. Unfortunately, for Enyeama from the resultant corner his error presented Paul Pogba with an opportunity to head France into the lead, which he gleefully accepted.
In all truth Nigeria couldn’t really get into the game after the introduction of Griezmann and didn’t really look like they could find a way back after going behind. France sealed their berth in the quarters courtesy of a Joseph Yobo own goal in the dying minutes with Griezmann making himself a nuisance in the penalty area.
5. Plenty of stunning saves, one costly error
“He is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender.” Vladimir Nabokov on the goalkeeper.
It’s tough being a goalie. It is the one position where a player can have an outstanding game yet be punished for one mistake.
Vincent Enyeama kept his side in the game with a number of stunning saves. He spectacularly denied Paul Pogba, prevented Karim Benzema twice blocking the Madrid striker’s one on one effort which Victor Moses helped clear and then in the 78th minute tipping over a headed effort. Unfortunately, his error of judgment from the subsequent corner allowed Paul Pogba an open goal to head into.
Enyeama still had time to deny the impressive Antoine Griezmann a goal turning over the forward’s drive.
Football is an unforgiving game because for all of Enyeama’s heroics his mistake cost Nigeria dearly.
Here’s the video of the match highlights from France vs Nigeria: