France vs. Nigeria: 6 Things We Learned

Andrew Gibney@@gibney_aFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

France vs. Nigeria: 6 Things We Learned

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    France have qualified for the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup after a 2-0 win over Nigeria in Brasilia, and they will face either Germany or Algeria for a place in the final four. Nigeria fail to progress past the round of 16 for the first time in their history, and Didier Deschamps side roll on to the next round.

    The Les Bleus’ coach made six changes to the side that played the final group game against Ecuador on Wednesday, and it was the Super Eagles that looked the better side during the first half.

    Emmanuel Emenike had a goal chalked off for offside and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had to make a superb save from a wonderful Paul Pogba chance as a tense and tight first half finished level.

    Nigeria were back on top in the second half, but the introduction of Antoine Griezmann after 60 minutes swung the momentum in France’s favour and they took the lead with 12 minutes to go.

    Mathieu Valbuena’s cross evaded Enyeama, the goalkeeper was stranded off his line and Pogba was in the right position to head the ball into the back of the net.

    The game was finished off in injury time when Joseph Yobo flicked the ball into his own net under pressure from substitute Griezmann.

    2 - #FRA are the first team to benefit from 2 own goals in the same World Cup. Lucky.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 30, 2014

    The 2-0 win flatters France and doesn't do justice to the excellent performance put in by Stephen Keshi's men.

    Here are six things we learned from France's victory over Nigeria.

Narrow Nigeria Prove Tough to Breakdown

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Keshi had done his homework well, and set up his side in a way that France found very hard to break down.

    Well organised and determined to work hard and protect Enyeama, the full-backs pushed in tight towards the centre-backs and limited the space that the French attack had to work with.

    Against Switzerland, France had space to get in behind the back line and caused Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side constant problems. Nigeria limited that space and crosses from the right from Mathieu Debuchy weren’t good enough to cause the back four any problems.

    With four defenders patrolling the penalty area, Olivier Giroud found it hard to play the role of target man, and Karim Benzema wasn’t able to play his way into the game.

Stop Yohan Cabaye and You Stop France

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    Nigeria lost Ogenyi Onazi after 59 minutes through injury and it had a huge impact on the defensive prowess of the Super Eagles midfield. He and John Obi Mikel had protected the defence perfectly and limited the time the French midfield had on the ball.

    Yohan Cabaye wasn’t able to be as influential as he would have liked, as he was not able to get on the ball as much as he did against Honduras and Switzerland.

    In the opening game the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder, according to WhoScored, completed 96 percent of his passes, completing 79 attempts. Against Nigeria he only completed 85 percent and 46 passes. He only touched the ball 58 times on Monday compared to the 85 touches versus Honduras.

    Nigeria illustrated to France’s next opponents, if you can limit Cabaye’s time and space on the ball, you stop France playing their game.

France Defended Well but Lacked Leadership

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    Due to an injury picked up by Mamadou Sakho, Deschamps had to play the partnership of Raphael Varane and Laurent Koscielny on Wednesday. Both players defended well, but there was still definitely something missing from the France back line.

    All eyes were on Koscielny—it was his first high-pressure start since he was sent off against Ukraine in Kiev—and he couldn’t afford any more mistakes. France conceded twice when he came on against Switzerland, but were already 5-0 up.

    He also started against Ecuador with France all but assured a place in the round of 16.

     #FRA 0-0 #NGA Koscielny dominant in Sakho's absence: twice as many clearances as the next man

    — Stats Zone (@StatsZone) June 30, 2014

     The Arsenal man was calm, composed and rather impressive against Nigeria. He was always in the right place at the right time and protected Hugo Lloris as much as he could.

    It is likely that Sakho will come back in for the quarter-final if fit, but it will be in no way due to Koscielny’s performance. The Liverpool man adds that extra bit of steel and leadership in the heart of the defence.

Enyeama Nearly the Hero for Nigeria

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    The Lille OSC goalkeeper did his best to help his team into the quarter-finals, but in the end it was one save too far.

    Enyeama was superb on Monday afternoon, time and time again denying France easy passage into the next round. He denied a superb effort from Pogba, squeezed out an attempt from Benzema, but one mistake cost his country dearly.

    The Nigerian goalkeeper was caught in no-man’s land from Valbuena’s corner. The ‘keeper should probably have stayed on his line, but he could only watch as the ball sailed over his head before Pogba nodded it into the empty net.

    He has been one of the more impressive goalies at this World Cup, but his ability to claim corners let him down in the end.

    A wonderful shot-stopper he may be, but his judgement let him down on Monday. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the aerial ability of Marko Basa and Simon Kjaer, who helped him to 21 domestic clean sheets, while on duty for Nigeria.

How Far Can Blaise Matuidi's Legs Carry Him

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    Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

    From the Trophée des Champions match against Bordeaux in August to Monday’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria, Blaise Matuidi has made 68 appearances in all competitions, and now in the heat of Brazil, it is starting to show.

    In the Brasilia heat you could see that the conditions were taking its toll on the PSG midfielder. He was lucky to stay on the pitch following a studs-up challenge on Onazi. The Nigerian midfielder had to leave the field, and Matuidi was lucky to stay on too.

    It was a surprise to see Matuidi start against Ecuador, with France already set to qualify. It would have been the ideal situation for Deschamps to rest one of his star men.

    It is a testament to Matuidi that it is after 68 games that he now looks slightly tired. Game 69 could be one step too far for the hard-working midfielder. Deschamps will need to hope Matuidi recovers quickly as he is an integral part to how well France play in the next round.

Call for Deschamps to Start with Antoine Griezmann

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    After poor performances from both Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema upfront for France, there will be calls for Didier Deschamps to start with the exciting talent of Antoine Griezmann for the quarter-final on Friday.

    1 - There was only one pass made between Giroud and Benzema in the first half. Breakdown.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 30, 2014

    Deschamps will have to be careful though. Griezmann was able to make the positive impact that he did with 60 minutes already gone in the match. He had already played 61 minutes in the Brasilia heat, there is a doubt that he would have been able to make the same impact.

    Griezmann is the perfect option for France off the bench at this World Cup. With the opposition defence tired and vulnerable, Griezmann expoits this with his movement, pace and intelligence.

    Benzema and Giroud softened the Nigerian defence up—Griezmann came on and took advantage of this.

    The next game will be in Rio de Janeiro, in the early afternoon kick-off. Deschamps should definitely look at leaving Griezmann’s impact until the last 30 minutes.

    There is nothing a tired defence likes to see less, than an exciting, vibrant attacker coming on to run his heart out for 30 minutes.