It was closer than perhaps expected, but in the end France overcame underdogs Nigeria with a 2-0 win in the Round of 16 to advance to a quarterfinal matchup against either Germany or Algeria. It is the third quarterfinal appearance in the last five World Cups for France, who won the 1998 championship on home soil and lost on penalty kicks in the 2006 final. On Monday, Les Bleus had to wait until the 79th minute to get on the board via a header by 21-year-old midfielder Paul Pogba, then put the game away on an own-goal in the 91st minute.
RIGHT REFS: It looked like Nigeria had taken the lead in the 19th minute when Emmanuel Emenike slotted home a beautiful cross by Ahmed Musa, but the goal was correctly disallowed by the North American officiating crew of Mark Geiger, Sean Hurd and Joe Fletcher for a very narrow offside decision.
NIGERIA! OH NO...ruled out for offside. Would've been a HUGE goal for the Super Eagles. pic.twitter.com/CaOig1Bqz2— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 30, 2014
FRENCH FLURRY: France seized control of the game after the introduction of Antoine Griezmann and produced a flurry of chances from the 70th minute on. Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama saved a point-blank chance from Karim Benzema and saw a shot rattle the crossbar, but Enyeama muffed a corner kick in the 79th minute, allowing Pogba to head into an empty net.
BREAKING UP A PERFECT GAME: Enyeama was flawless for most of the day with four saves, two of them at point-blank range. But on France’s decisive corner kick, Enyeama made a mess of his effort to slap the ball away. That one mistake was all France needed to advance.
NAIL IN THE COFFIN: The Nigerian resistance finally gave out in the 91st minute, when Griezmann challenged Joseph Yobo for a cross, and the ball caromed in off of the unfortunate Yobo, who was making his Nigerian-record 100th international appearance.
YOU SHALL NOT PASS: Nigeria have never advanced past the Round of 16 at the World Cup, and France saw no reason that tradition should end in 2014. The Super Eagles are the fourth African team to be eliminated from the tournament, following on the heels of Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast and leaving only Algeria – in action later on Monday – to carry the continent’s flag.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mathieu Valbuena, France – The diminutive midfielder’s return to the French lineup led to a much more fluid attack. Valbuena’s service was excellent all day, including his corner kick for the first goal a dangerous cross for the second.