For the first time in many a major tournament, France look more than worthy of being crowned champions.
Having breezed though Group E to reach the knockout stage, Didier Deschamps’ side faces its toughest test yet against Nigeria, who progressed through Group F with Argentina.
Though the French will be full of confidence ahead of the clash in Brasilia, the Super Eagles will be out to spoil the party and reach the first World Cup quarter-final in their history.
Venue: Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, Brasilia
Date: Monday 30 June
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One (U.K.)/ESPN (U.S.)
France Remain Grounded on World Cup Dreams
Two emphatic victories in the group stage would leave any player optimistically planning what to do with his World Cup winners’ medal, but France are different.
No strangers to World Cup shocks, the French know that a momentary lapse in concentration can leave a nation’s hopes in turmoil, and they must keep their wits about them if they’re to find a way past Nigeria on Monday.
Though Bacary Sagna and Morgan Schneiderlin came out and said that winning the World Cup is well within France’s capabilities, per Chris Waugh of the Daily Mail, one player who isn’t getting ahead of himself is Yohan Cabaye.
The Paris Saint-Germain star said that having such assumptions of glory will come back to bite France, though he insisted that his side can beat Nigeria on Monday—per the Agence Presse-France (via FIFA.com):
We have come a long way considering we almost didn’t make it to Brazil, so we should not get ahead of ourselves. The fact we showed our quality in the group stage obviously should make us more confident but not arrogant, otherwise we are going to have major problems. It is good to be ambitious but winning the World Cup is not easy as one can see by the good teams that have already been eliminated. I respect Nigeria, though we can beat them, but to say we are going to win the World Cup one has to be careful. There is still a long way to go.
Cabaye is likely to start in the heart of midfield in the Brazilian capital, but it’s striker Karim Benzema whom the Super Eagles really need to be aware of.
The Real Madrid striker has three goals to his name already in the tournament, including a brace against Honduras, and his recent international record is something to be admired—per OptaJean:
Benzema spearheads France’s counter-attacking system, and it’s clearly been working wonders for them, as eight goals in the group stage saw them through with minimal fuss.
Though Cabaye and co. remain adamant that there’s a long way to go, you can’t blame France fans for being excited, as their play has been sensational at times—something that Joey Barton agrees with:
Drawing Nigeria will have had the French rubbing their hands together, but if they underestimate the Super Eagles, they’ll do so at their peril.
Manager Stephen Keshi has forged Nigeria into a formidable unit, and with their performances steadily improving, they’ll be hoping to peak at the right time against France.
During Nigeria’s 3-2 loss to Argentina, the Super Eagles showed that they’re absolutely fearless and can run even the best sides close.
Ahmed Musa grabbed a brace in that game with a pair of smart finishes, and in doing so, he became the first-ever Nigerian to score two goals in a single World Cup match—per OptaJean:
Though his goals were sublime, it’s his all-round game throughout the tournament that has impressed, and former England striker Emile Heskey said that he’s a big Musa fan—per football.sony.net:
He looks very lively. He’s playing for CSKA Moscow at the moment, he’s only 21 and he’s showing all his ability on the world stage. His first goal against Argentina was a great finish. He wasn’t closed down quickly enough, but his shot was so fierce that it was past the goalkeeper before he could dive.
With Musa in strong form and the rest of the physical Nigerian side following suit, France will likely have their hands full in Brasilia, but their class may just shine through.
Both sides are more than capable of scoring goals, and while Nigeria will put up a strong fight, France have the kind of players who can win matches in an instant.
Prediction: France 3-2 Nigeria