France two steps from final

France two steps from final
France's midfielder Mathieu Valbuena (L) and France's forward Olivier Giroud react after a Round of 16 football match between France and Nigeria.

ROUND OF 16

FRANCE 2
(Paul Pogba 79, Joseph Yobo 90+2-og)
NIGERIA 0

France advanced to the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Nigeria, but they had to work for their win. Stephen Keshi's side had a first half goal disallowed and were dangerous throughout, but their resistance was broken by a 79th minute Paul Pogba header.

Poor Vincent Enyeama. The Nigerian goalkeeper had made a string of saves to deny the French, but it was his error at a corner that allowed Pogba to open the scoring.

Nigeria were a credit to their manager, the dignified Keshi, but there was nothing they could do to fight their way back into the game.

Five minutes of injury time only afforded France the chance to double their lead, a chance that Antoine Griezmann happily accepted.

The match started quickly, with neither team apparently keen to repeat the caution of Greece and Costa Rica the previous night.

Corners were won and wasted in quick succession, passing was brisk and ambitious, but not always accurate. But it was open and end-to-end, as so many games in this tournament have been.

BIG GUNS

French manager Didier Deschamps, having experimented against Ecuador in the final group game, returned the big guns to the team for Nigeria.

Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud, Raphael Varane and Patrice Evra were all brought back into the starting line-up. Clearly, he was taking no chances.

Keshi would have preferred not to make any changes at all, but the broken arm of Michel Babatunde, sustained when he was hit by a shot from Ogenyi Onazi, forced the return of Victor Moses.

Onazi himself appeared to have been injured in the early stages when he collided with Pogba, was carried off on a stretcher, but returned to run off the pain.

He wasn't so fortunate when he was caught late on the ankle by Blaise Matuidi in the second half. Back on the stretcher he went and this time he didn't come back. Matuidi, who had the good grave to look mortified by the damage he'd caused, was booked.

Nigeria thought they'd opened the scoring after 19 minutes when Ahmed Musa, star of the show against Argentina, found Emmanuel Emenike with a low pass and the Fenerbahce man turned the ball into the net.

Unfortunately for him, the linesman made an excellent call and ruled him marginally offside.

Perhaps shaken into action by that escape, France responded with their own effort three minutes later.

Pogba, dangerous throughout with his powerful and direct running, broke through the centre, slipped the ball to Valbuena and smashed the return pass in on goal. Only a fine reaction save from Enyeama prevented what would have been an outstanding strike.

France looked brighter after the departure of Giroud allowed Benzema to move further into the centre and the Real Madrid striker could have opened the scoring in the 70th minute.

Benzema exchanged passes with substitute Griezmann and tore into the box, but his shot caught enough of Enyeama to slow it down and allow Moses to whip it off the line.

That chance invigorated France and seven minutes later Yohan Cabaye smashed a 25 yard effort off the crossbar. Nigeria were rattled.

Sixty seconds later, Enyeama was forced to acrobatically tip Benzema's close range header over the bar. The deadlock was broken from the resultant corner and this time, it was Enyeama's fault.

The Lille goalkeeper came dashing out to claim Valbuena's corner, jumped high, only managed to brush it with his fingers and fell to earth to see Pogba carefully nodding the ball home.

France deserved the goal and they deserve their place in the last eight. Another solid performance from an increasingly solid team.

Only two men, Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer, have ever won the World Cup as a player and as a manager. Deschamps can still be the third name on that list.


This article was first published on JULY 1, 2014.
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