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World Cup 2014
 

France 2 Nigeria 0: Highlights, key battles and what the result means

Published on Jul 1, 2014 2:52 AM
 
French players celebrating after the team's second goal during the round of 16 football match between France and Nigeria at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

At times, this pulsating encounter felt like France the country versus Vincent Enyeama the colossus. Such was the Nigerian goalkeeper's breathtaking performance as he denied the free-flowing European heavyweights for almost 80 minutes.

But one momentary slip from the Lille custodian proved costly, letting in Paul Pogba to break the deadlock and the Africans' hearts late in the game. Joseph Yobo's own goal in injury time capped a cruel finish for the Super Eagles, who had a goal ruled out for offside in the first half.

Although Enyeama didn't deserve to lose in such a manner, Les Bleus rightly progressed to the quarter-finals with a 2-0 victory. Didier Deschamps' men attacked with abandon throughout the 90 minutes, leaving some gaping holes at the back that went unpunished.

Highlights

- Emmanuel Emenike thought he had broken the deadlock with a neat flick past a fully-stretched Hugo Lloris. But, to the relief of a slightly disjointed French backline, the in-form Fenerbahce striker was marginally offside. 

- For all the talk of Mexico's No. 1 Guillermo Ochoa, Enyeama proved that there were possibly safer hands in Brazil. In the first hour alone, the 31-year-old made four top-drawer saves - from acrobatic tip-overs to reflex blocks closer to the ground.

- One inswinging corner, however, proved to be his undoing. With a packed penalty area to deal with, Enyeama weakly palmed the ball away with his left hand. A gleeful Pogba could not miss as he headed into an empty net.

- Nigeria's spirits were crushed, even as Enyeama was once again needed to stop Antoine Griezmann's stinger from just inside the box. Seconds later, an effervescent Mathieu Valbuena put in a teasing cross that Yobo - under pressure from Griezmann - deflected into his own goal, ending Africa's World Cup hopes.

Key battle

Blaise Matuidi vs John Obi Mikel

The war of the midfield generals was as fiesty as it was fascinating. Matuidi and Mikel each controlled the engine room in spurts, energetically winning the ball back for their team before launching cross-field passes to launch quick breaks.

Paris Saint-Germain hardman Matuidi was lucky not to be sent off for a horrific stamp on the ankle of Ogenyi Onazi, who had to be substituted after the challenge. As the game wore on, Mikel's influence dipped as Pogba stepped in to assert his dominance.

Man of the Match

A Manchester United youth player barely two years ago, Pogba has transformed into one of the game's most exciting central midfielders. Aged 21 and with just 15 international caps, the Juventus prodigy took it upon himself to lead his country past a stubborn Nigerian backline.

With his crisp passing and infectious drive, the youngster pushed Les Bleus forward when the likes of Valbuena and Karim Benzema looked like they were running out of ideas and energy up front. They kept creating chances - the mark of a top team - and were finally rewarded by Enyeama's rare mistake.

What the result means

The Super Eagles failed in their bid to become just the fourth African side to make the quarter-finals of the World Cup (after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010).

As for France, they continued their impressive march towards a repeat of their 1998 triumph. But, with Germany as their next opponents, they will have to be tighter and more organised at the back. Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze will not be as forgiving as Nigeria.

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