France’s impressive two opening group games ensured that they wouldn’t find themselves facing Argentina in the last 16, instead they find themselves facing Stephen Kwasi’s Nigeria side, with their all important win over Bosnia in their second game paving the way for a possible last 16 game against France or Switzerland. Pundits and journalists remarked that Argentina and Bosnia would glide through Group F, in fact, Argentina made a meal out of the group, winning their games by only one goal and requiring a Lionel Messi masterclass in all three of their games. Bosnia’s first World Cup could have gone much better; Nigeria will be delighted with their qualification, despite all the speculation before the tournament about international match fixing.
France are one of only six European teams to progress through to the last 16, with heavyweights Spain and Italy out in the group stages, while Russia, planning for their 2018 World Cup, had a dire tournament with Fabio Capello’s pragmatic approach bordering on boring viewers in all their group games.
Nigeria are one of only two African teams to make it to the last 16, with both sides facing tough European opposition with France and Germany awaiting them in the last 16.
France, alongside Colombia, were the most exciting team to watch throughout the group stages, and if it wasn’t for Ecuador’s goalkeeper, Alexander Dominguez, they could have recorded nine points and a hefty goal difference.
Didier Deschamps has no injury worries for the last 16 game against Nigeria. Victor Moses and Geoffrey Oboabona were both struggling with injuries before the Argentina game; it remains to be seen whether they will be fit for the clash against France on Monday evening in Brasilia.
- Of the eight goals scored by France during the group stages, Karim Benzema contributed to five of them (3 goals, 2 assists)
- France and Nigeria both kept two clean sheets in the group stages.
- The Super Eagles have won just the one World Cup game since the 1998 World Cup – against Bosnia.
Key Players – Karim Benzema and Ahmed Musa
France are relying on this number 10, almost as much as they relied on Zinedine Zidane in the 1998 and 2002 World Cup finals, and so far, it seems the pressure has not phased the Real Madrid striker in the slightest. His performances against Honduras, and specifically against Switzerland, were near perfect. He registered two assists and a goal, and a ghost-goal that the World Cup deserved, if not for the final whistle against Switzerland – WhoScored.com rated Karim Benzema 9.71 in their 5-2 win over Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland side.
Although, he needs to be more prolific in front of goal, as the French number 10 could be leading the way in the goalscorer table now if he put more of his chances away. In fact, he has scored three goals from a total of 21 shots – averaging 7 shots per game. Benzema’s creative instinct has detracted from his inability to be more clinical, probably a reason why he isn’t considered world class, yet, Benzema is averaging 4 key passes per game.
France are heavily expected to ease past Nigeria in the 2nd round, and to face a possible quarter-final clash against Germany, they will need their front three of Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema on song if they are to go all the way.
That thunderbolt you saw score against Argentina on Wednesday? That was Ahmed Musa. Ahmed Musa had a relatively quiet World Cup before Lionel Messi and co arrived to play Nigeria in Porto Allegre; registering just 8 shots throughout the tournament, and averaging just three dribbles throughout his three Group F games.
But the Spartak Moscow forward is capable of scoring against the giants of international football, and caused Pablo Zabaleta problems throughout the match against Argentina.
Emmanuel Emenike could also prove vital if Nigeria are to progress through to the quarter finals.