As predicted, Les Bleus defeated Nigeria in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16, but France has no time to celebrate as it gets ready to face one of two tough opponents in the quarterfinal round. Germany and Algeria face off Monday afternoon, and either team would present a fierce challenge for the French side.
Both teams played strong for the first half of the game, though Nigeria controlled slightly more than 50 percent of the possession. The Super Eagles put four of their five shots on target, and Emmanuel Emenike saw his 19th-minute attempt strike the net, but Emenike was offside and the goal was called back. The first 45 minutes passed with neither team gaining a point.
France looked better the second half, and though Nigeria ended up with 51 percent of the overall game possession, Les Bleus came out the victors. Only one-third of France’s shots were on target in the first half, and none saw the net, but that improved to 60 percent by the end of the game. Paul Pogba had the only true strike in the 79th minute, when goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s misdirected punch on a corner kick fell right to the wide-open Juventus midfielder.
In the 91st minute, a second goal for the French side initially looked to come from Antoine Griezmann on a short cross by Mathieu Valbuena, but the replay showed the ball had deflected off of Joseph Yobo for an own-goal. Yobo was behind Griezmann and collided with Enyeama, who had come off of his line to block the shot. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the ball hit Yobo’s leg and bounced into the net.
The crutch for France during Monday’s Round of 16 match, and where the team will need to improve if it hopes to be ready for the quarterfinals and beyond against the quickly narrowing pool of World Cup teams, was possession and defense. Though the Super Eagles were held scoreless, the French defenders gave too many chances for Nigerian strikers to put the ball on target.
Yohan Cabaye and Raphaël Varane had a few good stops, but too many balls were left to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Lloris played a solid game, but Nigeria ultimately beat itself, hitting balls right at Lloris, being caught offside, and not following up on second-chance opportunities quickly enough.
France’s midfielders did not control possession well, leaving them vulnerable to counterattacks. Valbuena and Matuidi dominated in the final third, pressuring the Nigerian defense with precision crosses and give-and-go passes with the strikers. They were undone in the middle third, however, and this will not fly against either Germany or Algeria. Pogba was fittingly named “Man of the Match” for his game-winning goal and his control on both sides of the pitch.
France will need to tighten the holes exposed in the Round of 16 match if they hope to be victorious in the quarterfinals, as both Germany and Algeria have already proven to be dangerous on the attack in this World Cup tournament. They will also need to improve their accuracy on goal. Too many perfect opportunities were wasted by shots going off target, especially in the first half of Monday’s game. Les Bleus will get their chance to fight for a spot in the top four on Friday.
Commentary by Christina Jones
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16