Les Bleus leave it late but reach the quarters: how Stats Zone saw France 2-0 Nigeria
Nigeria took on France in a tantalising knockout match, looking to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
The Super Eagles made just one change from their previous two matches: Victor Moses replacing the injured Michel Babatunde.
France returned to the 4-3-3 formation that helped them to a 5-2 win over Switzerland in Group E, Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbeuna operating either side of Olivier Giroud. With Mamadou Sakho ruled out through injury, Raphael Varane and Laurent Koscielny were paired at centre-back for the first time in this World Cup.
As is often the case in tense early knockout matches, the opening quarter of an hour was uneventful. After 18 minutes Emmanuel Emenike found the net with a smart tap-in from a left-wing cross, but the striker was rightly ruled offside. Nigeria were edging the passing game, but both sides had created half-chances.
Nigeria's disallowed goal livened up both the game and their opponents - albeit briefly. Benzema almost broke the African side's offside trap, before Paul Pogba showed what he was capable of, strolling through the Nigerian midfield before volleying powerfully on target from Valbuena's cross. Vincent Enyeama was equal to the shot.
It was Pogba's first real venture forward after a good early defensive display, winning the ball back on 4 occasions in the opening 25 minutes. By contrast, his central midfield partner Blaise Matuidi had yet to stamp his defensive authority on the game, committing 2 early fouls.
As the first half ticked on, France continued to threaten mostly down the right, where Nigeria full-back Juwon Oshaniwa was receiving little support from his attacking team-mates.
The passing statistics, however, were noticeably equal.
With 40 minutes gone, the game had been a tale of both teams getting into a promising attacking position, only to make the wrong decision or pass at the crucial moment. Nigeria were particularly guilty of choosing the wrong option, often shooting from improbable positions, while Didier Deschamps' side had failed to find the target except with Pogba's well-hit and well-saved strike.
The first half hadn't always enthralled spectators, but Valbuena had looked the most likely to change that. The diminutive winger created the most chances in the opening 45 minutes, including Pogba's on-target effort, and a whopping 17 of his 29 passes were in the attacking third. No other player had made more than 7 passes in that area.
Meanwhile, Matuidi had decided the best option was simply to dribble around the entire Nigerian team. The PSG midfielder attempted 6 dribbles in the first half and completed all of them - more than the 11 Nigerian players on the pitch managed put together.
In the Super Eagles' midfield, Ogenyi Onazi was missing important tackles but making up for it - to an extent - by leading the field in ball recoveries. He wouldn't have much opportunity to improve his tackling in the game, coming off due to injury 10 minutes into the second half. They'd miss him from then on.
Onazi's first-half performance was arguably emblematic of his team: Nigeria failed with half of their attempted tackles but did make 9 interceptions. The French team made just 3.
The score remained 0-0 as the second half continued, but it was increasingly apparent that Nigeria's crossing wasn't working, their wide-men failing to find a team-mate or even evade an opposition head at the near post with most of their efforts.
Deschamps made a tactical change on the hour mark. The song remained the same (4-3-3) but Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann replaced the ineffectual Giroud, with Benzema moving inside to become the central striker. Giroud had been a help defensively, making 3 tackles and 3 headed clearances as well as blocking a shot, but the Arsenal man contributed little at the other end, even losing all 4 of his battles in the air. Griezmann didn't take long to make an impact, either, slipping Benzema through the Nigerian defence with a perfect one-two that produced an excellent save from Enyeama.
In the French defence, Koscielny was dominating the skies in Sakho's absence, making double the number of clearances as the next man.
The Europeans were in the ascendancy as the match entered the final 15 minutes of normal time. Benzema fired an extremely dangerous daisycutter across the goalmouth, Yohan Cabaye smashed a long-range shot against the bar (the sixth time France had hit the woodwork in the tournament) and then Enyeama tipped Benzema's header over the bar.
However, hero turned villain as the Lille goalkeeper let down his own good performance with an error in claiming a high ball, not for the first time in the match. Enyeama palmed the ball up into the air from a corner, allowing Pogba to head it into an empty net. The goal came from France's 11th shot of the match, 8 of which had been taken from inside the 18-yard box.
Nigeria searched for an equaliser but, not for the want of trying, created few real goalscoring opportunities. In fact, Griezmann had the best chance, forcing a good save.
The killer blow came indirectly through Griezmann again, the forward cutting in front of Joseph Yobo and forcing the defender to divert a low cross into his own net. The France No.11 was lively after coming on, and made a strong case for being recalled for France's quarter-final.
Nigeria didn't create many goalscoring opportunities in reply, not through want of trying. Griezmann had the best chance, forcing a very good save, then cut in front of Yobo to make him divert the ball into his own net. The France No.11 had been lively, strongly making a case for being recalled for the quarter-final.
It seems likely that Griezmann will play, with Benzema and Valbuena completing the front trio. The latter made 6 goalscoring opportunities, almost as many as the whole Nigerian team, while no other player created more than 2.
France 2-0 Nigeria, a scoreline reflective of the shots each team had: Les Bleus were able to find several shooting opportunities inside the area, Enyeama making a handful of fine stops, whereas Stephen Keshi's side had only 2 efforts from inside the box - both blocked.
Another notable difference was in the two teams' corners. Nigeria struggled to effectively attack and defend them, with France the clear winner in this particular battle.
Keshi's men could arguably look back on the game as an unfortunate missed opportunity - they were level approaching the final 10 minutes, after all - but France had certainly edged it in the attacking third. Deschamps' side weren't at their rollicking best, but will fancy their chances in the quarter-finals.
Facts and figures
- Didier Deschamps is unbeaten in his 10 games at the World Cup as player and manager (W8 D2).
- All of France’s goals during this World Cup have come from inside the box.
- France have won all 4 of their second round ties at the World Cup (2-0 vs Nigeria in 2014, 2-0 vs Italy in 1986, 1-0 vs Paraguay in 1998 and 3-1 vs Spain in 2006).
- Nigeria have lost all 3 of their World Cup second round ties (0-2 vs France in 2014, 1-2 vs Italy in 1994 and 1-4 vs Denmark in 1998).
- Nigeria have only won 1 of their last 12 World Cup matches, losing 8 and drawing 3.
- France have hit the woodwork more often than any other team at this World Cup (6).
- Karim Benzema has fired 13 shots on target so far at this World Cup - more than any other player.
- France have not conceded a goal in the first half in each of their last 12 games.
- Mathieu Valbuena completed 94% of his passes against Nigeria, the highest passing accuracy posted by any player in this match (minimum 3 passes attempted).
- Nigeria have conceded 5 goals in their last 2 World Cup matches, as many as they had shipped in their previous 6 games at the World Cup.