Story of the game
Both teams started the game at quite a pace and once a rhythm had been settled upon, it was the underdogs Nigeria who began to dominate possession of the ball. They were not averse to committing players forward and this was perhaps shown most poignantly when the African side won the ball back from Pogba after a surging run. Ahmed Musa was released down the left and he in turn fed a flying Emenike who won a free-kick off a tracking Debuchy. The resultant free-kick was a decent one whipped to the back post but Mikel could not capitalise.
Although France were far from toothless, Nigeria remained the most threatening and they even had the ball in the net just before the 20 minute mark, only for it to be ruled out for offside. Emmanuel Emenike was slipped in round the corner and produced a tidy finish but the decision of the assistant referee was probably correct, if only by half a yard.
France themselves then had an excellent sight at goal following an initial break made by Paul Pogba. Riding a tackle and shrugging off defenders’ pressure, Pogba released Valbuena into space on the right wing. Then finding himself in the region of the penalty spot, the Juventus man struck a fine volley from Valbuena’s cross which forced a terrific save from Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama.
In the last quarter of the first half, the Europeans were very much asserting their presence on the game with great build-up play, but then their final ball just letting them down.
Towards the end of the first period, a rifling shot from inside right position by Emenike caused Lloris some difficulty and he could only parry it straight back out into danger. Fortunately for the French, the ball cannoned straight onto the arm of Victor Moses and pressure was relieved from the situation.
Nevertheless, France were not finished for the half as they quickly broke with their attacking trio. Giroud had the task of finding one of two team mates but again, his final ball was the deciding factor in the failure of the move.
The second half began in much the same vein, continuing with the theme of France being dominant in general, but Nigeria were certainly confident in possession and maintained a threat on the goal of Lloris. They each traded blows for some time until the first chance of note just after the hour mark. Peter Odemwingie cut inside from his nominal right wing position onto his left foot and struck the ball very cleanly indeed. Lloris fell away to his right to save, and this act was made more difficult due to the bounce relatively close to him. However, he coped supremely comfortably.
The French really began to exert their dominance from this moment on, and the clear start of it was Karim Benzema playing a tight one-two to be put alone with Vincent Enyeama. The Nigerian goalkeeper was out sharply to make a smart save but a deflection back off Benzema took the ball bobbling towards goal. However, Victor Moses showed great desire to get back and clear from under his own bar, in what was the closest either side had come to a breakthrough.
The sustained period of pressure continued as a corner from the left by Valbuena went all the way through to Benzema standing past back post. Very good close control by the striker brought the ball down quickly, but he could only fizz a cross-shot across the six yard box. Nigeria hooked it clear but it found Cabaye who unleashed a rocket which thundered against the cross-bar.
It was another Valbuena set play soon afterwards which gave France their next chance. Again, a high quality delivery found Benzema whose flicked header was straight at Enyeama but carrying enough pace to force a corner from the enigmatic goalkeeper. The Marseille winger swung the ball in from that resulting corner, Enyeama came out but couldn’t claim the ball. Instead he rather flapped at it and the ball dropped kindly to Pogba who nodded the ball calmly over the stationary defenders to find the back of the net and put his side into the lead.
With time running out for Nigeria, France were more than content to keep the ball in the corners and to delay as long as possible. Having won a corner on the right hand side, Valbuena worked it short with Benzema before receiving the return. The Marseille man put in a testing low cross and as Enyeama came out to try and gather, Antoine Griezmann forced Joseph Yobo to skew the ball into the back of his own net. This was the last meaningful action of the match, and on the balance of play you have to say that France deserve their passage through to the quarter finals to play the winners of Germany vs Algeria.
France: Lloris (capt), Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny, Evra, Cabaye, Matuidi, Pogba, Valbuena (Sissoko – 94’), Benzema, Giroud (Griezmann – 62’).
1. Hugo Lloris – 7. Dealt adeptly with some testing Nigerian shots and was competent in coming to claim the ball in the air.
2. Mathieu Debuchy – 6. Was the most reliable out-ball for France at times and did help to force Musa back. He was only beaten once or twice by the Nigerian flyer and this is quite impressive.
4. Raphael Varane – 5. Uncharacteristically jittery on the ball and did lose the man he was assigned to mark from time to time. Without the leadership of Sakho alongside him, he seemed to lack direction and composure.
21. Laurent Koscielny – 6. Solid enough considering that he hasn’t played a huge deal of football in this World Cup. A few good clearances and important tackles were his high points.
3. Patrice Evra – 6. Bombed down the pitch well, but quite often it was down his side that Nigeria’s best openings came from. He was decent in possession however.
6. Yohan Cabaye – 6. Rotated well as part of the French midfield trio and launched several attacking moves from a deep-lying role. France kept the ball well for the majority of the game and he was important for this.
14. Blaise Matuidi – 7. Plenty of energy-sapping surges and lung-busting runs, he overlapped and interchanged well with Benzema all match. It was only really penetration that was absent from his game.
19. Paul Pogba – 6. Had moments of excellence but in the first half especially, these were cancelled out by a greater number of examples of complete mediocrity. His headed finish for the opener showed great calm in a high pressure situation but this shouldn’t completely cover over his other errors.
8. Mathieu Valbuena – 8. Tricky and slippery whenever he faced up a defender and kept the ball very well indeed. His final ball in open play was good enough, but it was his set play delivery that was his outstanding asset.
10. Karim Benzema – 6. The first half was probably his quietest of the tournament, but he came more into the game in the second half, especially after Griezmann’s introduction. Even in these circumstances, he still had a couple of chances to net his fourth of the World Cup.
9. Olivier Giroud – 6. Put himself about well and made life difficult for Nigeria’s centre halves. Although he didn’t achieve much in the game, he was feeding off scraps for almost the entirety.
11. Antoine Greizmann – 7. Good addition, lively, fluid link-up with Benzema, rotation caused problems, rounded off a good display with a vital contribution to the French second. His run across the front of Yobo forced the veteran centre half to put the ball past his own keeper.
18. Moussa Sissoko – N/A.
. Vincent Enyeama – 6. Beginning in a much more confident manner, the constant French pressure eventually took its toll. He began to misjudge the odd cross but was still able to pull off top saves.
5. Efe Ambrose – 6. Defended fairly well against the threat of Benzema but never really offered a great deal going forward.
2. Joseph Yobo – 6. Marshalled his fellow defenders well and kept a rigid shape against French attacks. The movement of Griezmann late on was the first to cause him serious issues.
13. Juwon Oshaniwa – 5. Looked clumsy and uncertain on more than one occasion and relied on grappling to deal with an aerial assault.
22. Kenneth Omeruo – 5. He did his best to defend against Mathieu Valbuena but the Frenchman’s movement was too much for him to cope with throughout.
10. John Obi Mikel – 6. He was slightly better than in previous matches and provided the base from which to launch attacks. Became overrun by the French midfield later on.
17. Ogenyi Onazi – 7. Energetic and combative, he put in some fantastic covering tackles, built up the play, and surged towards the box. A clattering tackle by Matuidi sadly ended his day.
8. Peter Odemwingie – 7. Showed fantastic commitment and desire to get up and down the pitch, and was able to get in dangerous positions where he got a shot off or slid in a team mate.
11. Victor Moses – 6. He picked up a couple of good positions and was quite tidy on the ball, but Nigeria needed something more from a player with such promise.
7. Ahmed Musa – 7. Lightning pace and dazzling feet made for several dangerous dribbles and thrusts at the back four. His delivery was the only thing that let him down really.
9. Emmanuel Emenike – 7. Powerful and direct running, along with an end product meant that he was a thorn in the French side.
4. Reuben Gabriel – 5. He could not perform anywhere near as well as Onazi had done in midfield and once he was introduced, the French trio began to overrun Nigeria relentlessly in the middle of the park.
19. Uche Nwofor – N/A.
Man of the Match
Mathieu Valbuena was the most consistent of the much revered French attacking trio, with his quick feet and even sharper mind posed a regular threat to Joseph Yobo’s troops. He never seemed to give the ball away when he received it, and somehow was always able to pick up a pocket of space. The diminutive Marseille midfielder had excellent delivery from all areas of the field, but of particular quality were his set plays. Countless openings arose from Valbuena’s corner kick routines and France could easily have had at least a couple of goals before they did eventually grab one from the havoc his cross caused. Mathieu Valbuena also played a vital role in their second goal, delivering the ball along the ground in such a direction and at such a pace that Yobo had no alternative but to deflect the cross into his own net.