France advances to quarterfinals after holding off Nigeria

ValbuenaFrance1-Nigeria2014 (Getty)

By TIM FONTENAULT

Vincent Enyeama has been one of the best goalkeepers at the FIFA World Cup, and he was remarkable again in the Round of 16 on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately for Enyeama and Nigeria, one mistake proved fatal and ended could have been the biggest upset of the tournament.

Enyeama ran into the middle of the penalty area on a corner kick in the 79th minute and tried to knock the ball away in a crowd of players. He deflected the ball right to the head of France midfielder Paul Pogba, who had been denied by Enyeama from point-blank range earlier in the match. Pogba headed the ball into the unguarded net to give France their first goal in a 2-0 win that sends them to the World Cup quarterfinals.

The scoreline does not paint a clear picture of a match that was as even as any other match in the tournament so far, as Nigeria gave France, one of the top sides in the World Cup to this point, everything they had.

Nigeria looked the better side early on and nearly took the lead in the 19th minute. Emmanuel Emenike poked a shot past France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris after a great through ball from Ahmed Musa, but the goal was called back for offsides. Less than half of Emenike’s body was beyond the last defender, but the linesman caught it and raised his flag immediately.

France and Nigeria traded chances throughout the match, and France’s best first-half chance came three minutes after Emenike was ruled offsides. Mathieu Valbuena played a ball into the box for Pogba, who fired a shot at Enyeama. The Super Eagles’ goalkeeper was unnerved, lunging to his left to knock away what would have been a goal.

The second half was more of the same from the two sides. Both teams had their chances, excellent chances at that. Nigeria’s best opportunity came with about 25 minutes to play, when Peter Odemwingie, who had been dangerous throughout the World Cup, ripped a shot at Lloris from just outside the box. Lloris went to ground to make the stop, but Nigeria’s best chance did not necessarily pose too much of a threat for France.

France, on the other hand, had Enyeama standing on his head. Karim Benzema nearly put the French ahead twice in the second half. The first effort was a point-blank header that Enyeama had to react quickly to and push over the bar. After that, Benzema had a shot from nearly the same spot stopped by a diving effort from Enyeama, but the ball ricocheted of Benzema’s leg and spun back toward the goal. Just before it would have crossed the line, Nigeria cleared it away.

Finally the breakthrough came for France. Enyeama’s lone mistake of the tournament allowed Pogba to head the ball in easily. After that, it looked like Nigeria had given up.

In the 91st minute, with Nigeria already resigned to the fact that they were going home, put a second goal on the board for France. There was a lapse in communication between Enyeama and Joseph Yobo as they both went for a ball against Antonie Griezmann. The ball hit off of Yobo’s leg and went into the goal.

France advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006 and will play either Germany or Algeria, the lone African team remaining, on Saturday.

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8 Responses to France advances to quarterfinals after holding off Nigeria

  1. TheFrenchOne says:

    Allez les bleus! This is the tournament when France exorcises its 1982 demons against Germany. I’ve been carrying that pain for far, far too long…

    • DB says:

      So has Battiston.

    • futbolisimo says:

      Bizarre final 10 minutes for Nigeria. Totally meager attempt to equalize. The wheat certainly seem to be getting separated from the chaff (with the exception of Brazil, who got away with Murder). France is my pick, if the young-ins can keep it together. Valbuena so far is in my W.C. all-star team.

      • Increase0 says:

        Valbuena was excellent. I don’t know how wasn’t just outright muscled off the ball. His corner kicks gave Nigeria so many issues and his ability to get through the defense was impressive.

        • futbolisimo says:

          Yeah, it’s hard not to marvel at those little guys – Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Modric, Lahm, even his coach Deschamps back in the day. It’s all center of gravity and really articulate athletic positioning, and of course moving in the opposite direction of the giant flying in at you. Soccer’s such and amazing sport…

      • Paul Terry says:

        Why did Brazil get away with murder?

  2. EastBayGrease says:

    Has anyone else noticed that when replaying a match on ESPN3, the thumbnail images used for each match gives away the winner?

    This image is shown not only on the page to select a match to replay, but also when the match is loading and anytime the video buffers. Thus, you can’t just look away at the beginning of the match. When I watching today’s France-Nigeria match, the video buffered for a moment and up pops an image of France celebrating a goal. So now I know that, with 20 minutes left in a 0-0 match, France scores.

    These “thumbnail/buffer images” are always are of the winning team. Today’s images were of the French team celebrating together and of Schürrle celebrating a goal. You would think ESPN’s employees would know the pain of having a big match spoiled by hearing the results before seeing the game. It almost seems sadistic that they would use images of goal celebrations from the winning team taken from the very match that the user has selected to watch on replay. Is it not obvious that the user is replaying the match because they didn’t get to see it?