France vs. Nigeria: Moving Benzema into No. 9 Role Unlocks Les Bleus' Firepower

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France vs. Nigeria: Moving Benzema into No. 9 Role Unlocks Les Bleus' Firepower
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

France moved into the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter-finals with a drawn-out 2-0 victory over Nigeria.

The Super Eagles matched les Bleus for 80 minutes until France finally broke the deadlock, Paul Pogba heading home after Vincent Enyeama had flapped at a Mathieu Valbuena corner.

Minutes before the end, a Joseph Yobo own goal sealed the deal after more good work from Valbuena.

 

Formations and XIs

@stighefootball

France pressed ahead with their 4-3-3, playing Olivier Giroud as a No. 9 and Karim Benzema off the left flank. Antoine Griezmann dropped to the bench to accommodate.

Nigeria played a 4-2-3-1 but brought Victor Moses in for the injured Michael Babatunde. Ahmed Musa played left, while Moses and Peter Odemwingie switched places often.

 

Nigeria's Strong Setup

From the first minute, it became clear that this Nigeria side had come to play.

Far removed from the drab, slow-moving outfit that showed up against Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Super Eagles played free-flowing football and utilised quick passing to speed up attacks.

Emmanuel Emenike continued to run the channels superbly, Musa started on the left to help track Mathieu Debuchy's runs forward and John Obi Mikel appeared far more imperious on the ball.

That they moved the ball quickly from player to player was the key aspect; no longer were they shooting themselves in the foot by halting their own attacks.

 

France's Suspect Setup

Didier Deschamps' decision to go with Giroud up front meant Benzema played out on the left-hand side.

He played the same role against Switzerland, dropping into the space behind Stephan Lichtsteiner, and it's thought that Nigeria's tendency to clog the middle of the park with numbers scared les Bleus away from the idea of playing him centrally.

On paper, moving him to the left freed him somewhat, placing him one vs. one with Efe Ambrose and asking him to penetrate the box from the left when Giroud had attracted markers.

The plan, however, isolated the Real Madrid man more than it brought him into proceedings. He managed just 16 total touches in the first half; service in to him from Pogba was iffy, and his own passing left a lot to be desired.

Nigeria matched France for 60 minutes despite the French possessing the better side. Blaise Matuidi looked a little untidy, the midfield were leaning on Yohan Cabaye a little too much and Valbuena wasn't enjoying the space he usually finds.

 

Second-Half Swing

Deschamps rectified his initial gamble at the 60-minute mark, bringing Griezmann on for Giroud and placing Benzema through the middle as a No. 9.

It worked a treat—though in part due to Nigeria's simultaneous loss of Ogenyi Onazi, who was playing his best game of the tournament in defensive midfield—as Benzema's linkup play became more heavily utilised in more promising areas.

His exchange with Griezmann, to serve up a one vs. one chance cleared off the line by Moses, was a turning point in the game, and from there les Bleus dominated and scored the requisite goals.

 

Conclusion

An admirable campaign from Nigeria ends here, but Stephen Keshi can be proud of qualifying from a tough Group F and pushing France all the way inside 90 minutes.

His future is unclear, but after an excellent 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and a strong 2014 World Cup, only persistent politicking and meddling from the Nigerian Football Association would put him off continuing at the helm.

Deschamps, meanwhile, moves on to the quarter-finals and must work out how he will approach the next game from the start.

Does Giroud merit another starting berth, or has Griezmann proved he's capable of shouldering the load from the left?

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