France squares off against Nigeria in World Cup round-of 16
By Ian Palmer
Nobody expected much of France at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, not even the French fans. The team has never really lived down their debacle at the 2010 event in South Africa where they went on strike, didn’t win a game, and were knocked out of the competition in the group stage. Things are certainly different this year as the team managed to win Group E with seven points from a pair of wins and a draw. This encounter takes place on Monday, June 30 at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia.
France got off to a hot start in their opener with a 3-0 win over Honduras. They then spanked Switzerland 5-2 before settling on a 0-0 draw with Ecuador. But while France looks good on paper, let’s not forget they were placed in the tournament’s easiest group and also played much of their games against Honduras and Ecuador with a man advantage due to red cards given to their opponents. Still, France has put the ball in the net eight times and is playing this tournament without one of their top players in Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich.
The Nigerians advanced with four points which were earned by a 0-0 draw with Iran followed by a 1-0 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They then gave Argentina all they could handle in their final group match, but came out on the wrong end of a 3-2 score line. Nigeria has proven to be a strong, fast, and powerful squad which has been successful so far when counterattacking. Like several other African nations at the World Cup though, the Nigerians could be too worried about their bonus money rather than focusing on the task at hand.
France gave a few players a rest against Ecuador, most notably Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena, and Patrice Evra, so they should all be refreshed and ready to go against Nigeria. The French have received three goals and two assists from striker Karim Benzema in the competition and will be relying on him to stay hot for at least one more game. Midfielders Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, and Cabaye have also played well as have Antoine Griezmann and Valbuena. France also has striker Olivier Giroud on the bench if manager Didier Deschamps looking for more firepower.
Ahmed Musa has starred for Nigeria and had both goals against Argentina while Peter Odemwingie scored the Super Eagles goal against Bosnia. Veteran midfielder John Obi Mikel has also had a good tournament so far playing in front of the back four. Nigeria should be looking to exploit France’s questionable defense, which is their opponent’s weakest area. Mathieu Debuchy and Evra have played well enough, but often struggle when pressured. If Nigeria can get to these two defenders they could force French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into action time and time again.