Paul Pogba scored a second-half winner as France advanced to the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Nigeria on Monday at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.
Following a scoreless first half in which Nigeria had a goal ruled out, France steadily built pressure before going ahead through Pogba's 79th-minute header. A Joseph Yobo own goal in stoppage time sealed the points for France.
It was a harsh result for Nigeria, who matched France for most of the game, and for goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who committed a costly error that led to the opener. Otherwise, Enyeama mostly kept France at bay with a fine performance for the Super Eagles.
Far from #FRA's best performance. But potential QF opponents beware, Les Bleus now have nothing to lose. Mission accomplished. Pressure off!— Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip) June 30, 2014
With the win, France moved on to the quarter-finals for the first time since finishing as runners-up in 2006. In the last eight, Didier Deschamps' side will play either Germany or Algeria on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
Once there, the omens appear favourable for Les Bleus despite failing to fully impress against Nigeria. Following an impressive group-stage performance, France have now scored 10 goals in Brazil, their best total in a World Cup since winning it on home soil in 1998. In addition, Les Bleus have advanced to the semi-finals or further in each of their last five appearances in the knockout phase.
Despite coming into the match as clear underdogs, Nigeria started well and appeared to take the lead in the 19th minute as Emmanuel Emenike turned in Ahmed Musa's cross from the left. But Emenike was ruled offside in a tight decision, and the goal was disallowed.
France created a big chance three minutes later with a flowing move down their right flank. Pogba laid off for Mathieu Valbuena, who then crossed back into the middle for Pogba. Timing his volley perfectly, Pogba directed a powerful shot on target, but Enyeama pushed the ball out for a corner, which came to nothing.
Both teams had another sight of goal before half-time, France's Mathieu Debuchy blasting wide in the 40th minute, and Emenike forcing Hugo Lloris into a save with a fierce drive from the top corner of the box.
With the match scoreless at half-time, Nigeria received bad news in the 56th minute as Ogenyi Onazi left the field on a stretcher following a challenge from Blaise Matuidi. The French midfielder was booked on the play, and replays suggested he could have seen red for his reckless tackle.
Matuidi is very lucky to still be on the pitch. That would have been a red card in some of the other matches we've seen. #FRA— Jerrad Peters (@jerradpeters) June 30, 2014
France then made a change in the 62nd minute, introducing Antoine Griezmann in place of Olivier Giroud. Eight minutes later, Les Bleus had a big chance to take the lead, and Griezmann was prominently involved.
Karim Benzema and Griezmann traded passes along the edge of the box before Benzema saw his shot partially blocked by Enyeama. But the ball trickled through and bounced toward Nigeria's goal line, where Victor Moses cleared.
France ramped up the pressure from there, Yohan Cabaye hitting the bar in the 77th minute with a sweet volley from distance. Two minutes later, Pogba finally put France ahead.
Valbuena started the chance with a corner from the left side in the 79th minute, but Enyeama gave Les Bleus a helping hand by tipping the ball into the path of Pogba. Unmarked at the back post, Pogba directed a looping header into the net for a 1-0 France lead.
It was a bitter blow for Nigeria, but France weren't done. In the first minute of stoppage time, Valbuena played a dangerous ball into the middle of the box after accepting a short corner from Benzema. With Griezmann lurking, Yobo turned the ball into his own box to seal France's win.
|Antoine Griezmann (for Giroud, 62')||N/A||7|
|Moussa Sissoko (for Valbuena, 90')||N/A||5|
|John Obi Mikel||7||6|
|Reuben Gabriel (for Onazi, 59')||N/A||5|
|Uche Nwofor (for Moses, 89')||N/A||5|
France midfielder Paul Pogba (via BBC Sport):
I have no words to describe this feeling. The whole country is behind us and scoring that goal really liberated us. I am so happy for the team and all of France.
To score a goal for your country, especially in such an important game as this, to get into the last eight of the World Cup is one of the best moments of my life.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi (via BBC Sport): "I thought the referee made a lot of mistakes and was very lenient to the French players. There was a very bad tackle on Ogenyi Onazi and he is probably out for weeks."