France get break of the ball against Nigeria

Goalkeeper Victor Enyeama gifts Paul Pogba late opener before Joseph Yobo own goal

France 2 Nigeria 0

The French continue to move forward at this World Cup and yet they have yet to completely shake the suspicion that they are simply fortunate to have been directed down the path of least resistance.

Having emerged from a soft enough group, they triumphed here over their timid second round opponents. Nigeria’s pool of talent ensured that their coach again selected an attacking formation and they did have one or two chances to score early on but when Paul Pogba’s second half goal left them fighting for their tournament survival, it turned out Stephen Keshi’s side didn’t pack a punch at all.

Didier Deschamps’ side probably did and might well have used it had they been required to; as it was, they certainly outmuscled their opponents in the key head-to-heads, roughly at times, and they were lucky to finish the game with a full team.


Perhaps handicapping them would have helped the quality of the contest for it was generally poor stuff for the most part from two sides who, if this a fair measure of them, can count themselves fortunate not to have been drawn in one of the competition’s more lethal groups last December.

France might argue that they have shown against the Swiss what they can do on one of their better days and Deschamps might share the blame for the poor performance here due to his selection up front but a half decent side would have surely beaten either of these two rather easily.

The Nigerians, to be fair, came with a gameplan but, for all their attacking talent, they had nobody actually capable of delivering the goals required for victory. Target man Emmanuel Emenike did have one disallowed but he had been offside and that aside, neither he nor his supporting cast did all that much to test Hugo Lloris.

They clearly sought to target Patrice Evra from the outset with right back Efe Ambrose the first to show how much damage could be done down that flank before Victor Moses settled to exploit Manchester United stars waning power and pace.

Almost everything the Africans created over the first period came from that side although not, as it happens, that disallowed goal which was the product of a low angled Ahmed Musa cross from the left.

There were other half chances for Keshi’s side in what at times was an open game but the best of them fell to Moses, whose control completely let him down when Emenike’s driven shot from 20 metres was carelessly punched at the Chelsea forward who was bearing down from the middle of the area.

The French approach work was different with most of their better chances down to moves through the centre where Pogba, in particular, looked really impressive when he hit his stride. The best example of it early on involved the Juventus midfielder linking up rather neatly with Mathieu Valbuena as he powered towards goal. The wideman's return pass was almost perfect and the shot it teed up was good but Vincent Enyeama reacted brilliantly to turn it safely away.

It was about the only time the goalkeeper was called into serious action early on, for the French frontline didn't seem to be on anything like the same wavelength. Time and again they'd break out of defence or press forward with a bit of pace from midfield, only for things to break down because an error, with neither Olivier Giroud nor Karim Benzema ever looking remotely sure what the other was up to.

Mathieu Debuchy, who overlapped impressively well down the right, also tended to mistime or misjudge things at the key moments.

All were guilty of playing awful final balls, as was Pogba when he completely overhit one through the middle of the Nigerian centre backs that was intended for Yohan Cabaye. It was for long periods really poor stuff and while Nigeria had their fair share of possession it was the French who kept blowing the more promising positions.

Deschamps was fortunate not to see his side reduced to 10 men after a reckless and late challenge by Blaise Matuidi earned him only a yellow card, and matters improved for his side after he replaced Giroud with Antoine Griezmann and allowed Benzema to operate more centrally.

The Real Madrid striker might have broken the deadlock when he was put through on the goalkeeper minutes later but on that occasion Enyeama made enough contact to slow the ball’s progress and Moses somehow popped up to clear just short of the line. The goalkeeper then did well to put the striker’s glancing hearer from a Valbuena cross just over but from the resulting corner he came and got just enough contact on the ball to tee it up perfectly for Pogba to head home from beyond the far post.

The African champions had 16 minutes including stoppage time to save themselves but they never came close. The French had finally found a bit of rhythm to their game and always looked the more likely to score the game’s next goal.

Still, the manner of it was hard on Keshi's side and on Joseph Yobo, in particular, with a sparsely defended short corner from the right ending with an own goal from the centre back, who inadvertently turned the ball into the bottom right corner as he, his goalkeeper and Griezmann sought to meet Valbuena's low cross at the nearpost.

On the evidence of this, Nigeria's time at this World Cup was up and for the third time they made their exit at the second round stage, having no complaints on this occasion. The French, though, can most likely book their own flights home for the weekend unless they get lucky again or produce something dramatically better than this in Rio on Friday.

FRANCE: 1-Hugo Lloris, 2-Mathieu Debuchy, 4-Raphael Varane, 21-Laurent Koscielny, 3-Patrice Evra; 6-Yohan Cabaye; 8-Mathieu Valbuena (Sissoko 90'), 14-Blaise Matuidi, 19-Paul Pogba; 10-Karim Benzema, 9-Olivier Giroud (Griezmann 62')

Yellow cards: Matuidi

NIGERIA: 1-Vincent Enyeama; 5-Efe Ambrose, 13-Juwon Oshaniwa, 22-Kenneth Omeruo, 2-Joseph Yobo; 10-John Obi Mikel, 17-Ogenyi Onazi (Gabriel 59'), 7-Ahmed Musa, 11-Victor Moses (Nwofor 89'); 8-Peter Odemwingie, 9-Emmanuel Emenike

Yellow cards: 0

Referee: Mark Geiger (United States)

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times