France is competing in the FIFA World Cup knockout stages for the seventh time in its history, but that vast experience is only part of why Les Bleus will beat Nigeria in the Round of 16 on Monday. The French have a young, talented team with a proven ability to score goals, and a solid defense that only allowed two against in group play. France has what it takes to continue to advance through the 2014 World Cup stages.
France dominated Group E from the first game, routing Honduras 3-0 and Switzerland 5-2, and taking a scoreless draw with Ecuador after advancement was all but guaranteed. Karim Benzema, Moussa Sissoko, Blaise Matuidi, Olivier Giroud, and Mathieu Valbuena all scored in group play, with Benzema netting three overall. Benzema was directly responsible for four goals, but had one credited as an own-goal to goalkeeper Noel Valladares in the match against Honduras.
Some fans may feel that past experience does not matter in the present, but this is incorrect. It is true that teams are playing with new, different players, but when teams triumph on the world stage, it has a positive effect on their national football system. In France’s case, the country has a solid farming system—ranked sixth overall by UEFA—because young players know they can be successful there. This system has led the team to two previous World Cup Championship match appearances, and one Championship trophy.
The French football system has created a team that easily bounced back from losing two veterans just days before the first match, one of which was star striker Franck Ribery. France barely blinked, destroying Jamaica 8-0 in a final friendly before conquering Group E with an iron fist. These French players will beat Nigeria with the same intensity in Monday’s Round of 16 match, and will continue on to attempt another FIFA World Cup Championship.
There is a writer for the Guardian Liberty Voice who believes Nigeria will win Monday’s game because France supposedly broke down on defense against Switzerland and in its previous championship match against Italy. This is completely incorrect, as France’s defense was so strong it only allowed two goals all through group play, and those were late, meaningless goals to a Swiss team that was already losing 5-0. France let its guard down for half a second on a set piece and allowed Blerim Džemaili to slip a dribbler past the wall and the goalkeeper. Les Bleus regrouped quickly and held off the Swiss attack, except for a beautiful volley into the net by Granit Xhaka that was near impossible to save.
Nigeria has never made it past the round of 16, and has only been in the knockout stages twice, in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup tournaments. The Super Eagles placed last in both 2002 and 2010 group play, and failed to qualify in 2006.
The African team has a solid lineup this time around, though, and definitely has some dangerous strikers in Peter Odemwingie and Ahmed Musa. Musa scored both goals against Argentina and Odemwingie got the game-winner against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but they were unable to crack the nut that was Iran’s defense in the first group stage match. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama held off everyone except Lionel Messi—who netted two in the Argentina-Nigeria group match—and Marcos Rojo, and is one of the strongest keepers in the tournament. Benzema has shown up many a goalkeeper this month, and though he is no Messi, he will likely find gold behind Enyeama.
Unfortunately, Nigeria has also been struggling with financial issues, and the players refused to practice last Thursday until they received part of their appearance fee. President Goodluck Jonathan stepped in and made sure the players saw some of their money, but with their thoughts on whether or not they will be paid, the players cannot be entirely focused on the upcoming match.
This same issue happened to Ghana during the group stage, and the Black Stars went on to lose to Portugal in the final group match and miss their opportunity to advance—which they could have done with a win, as the United States lost to Germany 1-0 that same day. Instead, the U.S. and Germany move on, and the Ghanaian team returned home. The same could happen to Nigeria if the team is more focused on the money than on the game at hand.
The other Guardian Liberty Voice writer who thinks Nigeria is going to win is sadly misinformed, as France will beat the Super Eagles for this World Cup Round of 16 match-up. France may have suffered its last two defeats at the hands of African teams, but Les Bleus will not let that happen a third time. France will go on to face the winner of Germany versus Algeria—which will be decided Monday afternoon—in the quarterfinals.
Commentary by Christina Jones
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16