The Nigerian squad was eliminated from the World Cup Round of 16 in their match against France today. There were high hopes for the Super Eagles to expose some recent French defensive breakdowns, however in the end, France was able to slip behind the Nigerians on poorly defended set pieces. With Nigeria out of the tournament, France will advance to the quarter-finals against the winner of today’s match between Algeria and Germany. Following the loss, Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi expressed uncertainty regarding his future with the national team.
Both teams had a fair share of high and low points in group play leading up to today’s match. The Nigerian’s seemed make forward progress technically as a team, whereas France started out strong in opening matches, but receded to a fizzle in their final match against Ecuador. Regardless, the Super Eagles and Les Bleus both hoped to break down each other’s defense.
Victor Moses’ inclusion in the Super Eagles’ starting lineup was questioned after the player gave an underwhelming performance in the team’s group play opener against Iran. However, after Michael Babatunde suffered a broken arm last game, Moses was Keshi’s choice replacement.
The effort to break down the French defense was present, however the Super Eagles failed to capitalize on key opportunities. Striker Emmanuel Emenike was caught offsides in crucial moments for Nigeria, most notably in the 19th minute when his goal was disallowed. Had Nigeria been able to score off the bat, the pace of the game may have shifted in their favor early on. Instead, the game went scorless for an entire half and Nigeria, though able to keep possession for a good portion of play, was unable to create sufficient goal-scoring chances.
Ogenyi Onazi went down in the 54th minute after finding himself on the receiving end of a horrible tackle by French midfielder Blaise Matuidi, and will most likely be nursing a serious ankle injury. Matuidi was booked with a yellow, however Onazi’s absence trigged a marked decline in the Super Eagles’ performance.
Keshi’s decision to start Moses paid off defensively for the Super Eagles when the player was able to make a goal line save after goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama got caught coming off the line in the 78th minute. However in the 79th minute, Enyeama came off the line once more and, instead of punching the ball away, only tipped it. Unfortunately none of the Nigerian players in the box dropped to cover the goal, and France’s Paul Pogba was able to get a free header and put the ball away giving France a 1-0 lead.
Nigeria had difficulty defending set pieces, and the team’s ultimate undoing came in stoppage time and was the result of a lack of communication in the back. Enyeama nearly collided with his own defender while trying to grab the set piece service. Defender Joseph Yobo was busy following his mark and did not see that Enyeama had come out to intercept the cross. The ball ultimately deflected off of Yobo’s leg in an own goal, giving France the 2-0 lead over Nigeria.
Although Nigeria was unable to advance to the quarter-finals, the team’s inclusion in the Round of 16 has been a monumental achievement and cause for a well-deserved sense of national pride. The last time Nigeria made it to the knockout round was back in France in 1998, and as it stands in 2014, Algeria is the only remaining African nation in the World Cup. After making it this far, there is an obvious curiosity surrounding Keshi’s plans for the national team in the coming years.
As the first black coach to take an African team to the second round, Keshi was asked if he would stay on as the Nigerian coach. His response: a curt “I don’t know.” What he did offer, however, was an insight on the possible future of the Nigerian squad. “There can be a lot of improvement, the players are very young,” Keshi explained, “In the next two years this group is going to be a wonderful team.”
Despite the loss, Nigeria has much to look forward to in the coming years. For now, they will miss out on the July 4 World Cup quarter-finals as France takes the advance. Curiosity will abound for the next couple of days, as Keshi will likely undergo more prying about his future plans with the Super Eagles.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Round of 16
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