June 30, 2014

France 2, Nigeria 0

France advances, but it was hardly a simple task: France won 2-0, but that’s a deceiving score line. The second goal came in stoppage time via an own goal (although Mathieu Valbuena deserves credit for putting it in the dangerous spot), and the first tally only came in the 78th minute after some tremendous back-and-forth play from both sides. Nigeria would’ve scored in the first half, save for a close offsides call against Emmanuel Emenike, and it was a bit too easy for the Nigerians to work the ball into France’s attacking zone during a few sequences in the second.

Karim Benzema should’ve scored at least once, if not twice, and Olivier Giroud wasn’t nearly himself, coughing up possession way too many times. Even Pogba, the first goal scorer, made a number of poor decisions with the ball before he ultimately redeemed himself with the late header. The only players who really shined were midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, who was a constant nuisance along the right flank for the Nigerians and sub F Antoine Griezmann. It will surely take the win, but Monday’s performance left a lot to be desired, especially with a potential matchup against Germany looming.

Vincent Enyeama kept Nigeria in this game: Against a lesser keeper, France may have won by a score line more similar to its group-stage-whomping of Switzerland, whom it dispatched 5-2. But Vincent Enyeama firmly placed himself alongside outstanding World Cup keepers Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico and Keylor Navas of Costa Rica. He saved a one-timed Pogba rocket in the 21st minute to keep the clean sheet and then stuffed Benzema’s one-on-one attempt with a sliding deflection. His lone mistake was coming off his line in the 78th-minute to capture a corner kick. The folly left his goal open with no one to protect the line and Pogba finished off the simple chance.

France needs to finish better if it wants to reach semis: With a suspect defense, the onus lies on France’s strikers to stake a lead against its opponents. That didn’t happen against an upstart Nigerian team, which held possession longer in the first half than Les Bleus did. Pogba missed the point-blank chance, Debuchy couldn’t knock a worthwhile attempt despite a perfect pass onto his foot in the box and Benzema wasn’t nearly the lethal striker he’d been in group play. Certainly some of the questionable finishing can be attributed to Enyeama, but Benzema in particular wasn’t picking his corners and instead opting for shots right in the middle of the goal. Nigeria was forgiving. Potential quarterfinal opponent Germany won’t be.

Read More: http://www.cbssports.com/world-cup/eye-on-world-cup/24601790/fifa-world-cup-what-we-learned-day-18