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THE PANEL: France favourites, but Eagles can win

THE PANEL: France favourites, but Eagles can win
June 30
11:34 2014

Nigeria battle France at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, Brasilia, on Monday evening, and the Super Eagles will be out to spoil the party for the 1998 winners in a bid to reach the World Cup quarter-final for the first time.

The African champions finished as runners up to Argentina in Group F, having picked up 4 points from three games. After an abysmal — quite frankly — encounter with Iran in their opening game, they built on that 0-0 draw by beating Bosnia 1-0. While their final match resulted in a defeat to Argentina, they still made it through and will take plenty of positives from the game.

The French have finally come together as a side for perhaps the first time since Germany 2006. They put the misery of South Africa behind them by thrashing both Honduras and Switzerland in their opening two group games before getting the point they needed in their final match to go through as winners.

Our analysts are back to examine the game, as well as Eagles’ performance in the first round.


What is your view on the team’s first round performance?

Sunday Omeike: It is hard to be critical of the boys’ performance. Their performance is reminiscent of their boss’ ethos: improvement with each game. I regard the coach, Stephen Keshi, as one of the best tournament coaches around, and his plan has been going on perfectly. Only Messi’s genius stopped him and his boys from achieving first first place in the first round. It is glaring to see that the team’s play has improved with every passing game. Lethargic performance against Iran turned majestic against Bosnia, while Argentina got a get-out-of-jail-card via Messi. Just like the group stage at the AFCON tourney in 2013, the Super Eagles have continued the trend and they can only get better. Therefore, it is overwhelmingly satisfactory that we are into the round-of-16 after 16 years soul-searching.

Bless Ekene: Our first round performance wasn’t that spectacular, but we got better with each match. If we had started like we finished the group matches, I believe we would have won the group. But all the same, I’m happy we progressed.


What Should Keshi do to win against France?

Nigeria-France 1

SO: France have got their World Cup pedigree back after the South Africa debacle. Coach Didier Deschamp has done away with the perceived trouble-makers and he has also got Les Blues playing pretty good football again. They have waltzed through the group stage, even if they took a stroll in the goalless draw with Ecuador.

However, having said all of that, the French are not unbeatable, and the Super Eagles’ 4-3-3 system is the perfect antidote to their free-flowing brand of attacking football. However, for this system to be successful, the midfield trio must shackle both Cabaye and Matuidi, as they are the real engines that push the team on to attack. Cabaye’s penetrative passes must be cut out, while Matuidi must be body-checked always in the middle. This will require that extra midfielder, something the injured Babatunde would have done to perfection.


Also, as was pointed out before the tournament, the European nation’s weak spots are their ever-attacking full backs; therefore, the defence must sit deep on the wings to draw them out while Emenike is positioned there to start our counter-attacks. Onazi should also sharpen his shooting from distance, because their defence affords shots from distance. In all, we must always make our chances count.

BE: Whatever he did against Argentina clearly worked and I think he should go with the same tactics. However, we should be a little bit tighter in the midfield.

France are a team that score lots of goals; there is no need trying to match them in that department, so I suggest we don’t give them room. We should keep it tight, then try to catch them on the break.



What threat do France pose?

SO: France are putting themselves up there as one of the favourites for the World Cup, and their performances have backed that up. Their tactical system is diverse and with several outlets. This includes the ball-playing prowess of Yohann Cabaye and Paul Pogba; the fierce yet expertly tackling of Blaise Matuidi, their box-to-box driver; the speed and creativity of Mathieu Valbuena; and Benzema’s leadership from the front with Giroud complementing him. They also have a staunch defence, led by Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, ensuring that this team is hard to beat down. They also possess a top shot-stopper in captain Hugo Lloris, and the players are playing like a real team. They have scored goals from both set-pieces and open play, and I think this is what separates a good team from a better one. The coach has tried both 4-4-2 with proper wingers who are almost always in the opponent’s half, and pint-sized Valbuena has taken up the mantle in the absence of injured Frank Ribery, while Karim Benzema looks at home again, banging in goals and also weighing in with crucial assists.


So, I expect a team that would go all out for a win from the first minute. They’d look to batter the Super Eagles from all possible angles in a bid to make the game safe early and ensure that they don’t experience a shocker from an opponent they’d perceive as lower in pedigree.

BE: France have a history of not doing well against African teams, and we’ve beaten them before. History favours us, but they are a dangerous team and are in form  We must bring our ‘A’ game in that match or we might find ourselves in big trouble.


How do you see Joseph Yobo who could make his  100th cap against France?

SO: It’s big congratulations to him, as he has earned them. What more? His performances in Brazil have cemented his legendary status as he has surprisingly rolled back the years in the two games he has started and — in the process — silence his many doubters. He enjoys the respect and support of the team; and although he is probably his playing his last World Cup, his experience would be useful for the younger ones in the near future.

BE: Good for him. He has served Nigeria very well and I think he deserves it.

What’s your prediction?

SO: I am all out with predictions. I definitely would not be doing that anytime soon. The French are tipped to win this encounter, but if the Super Eagles can survive the first 20 minutes and possibly the first half, then we would be better placed to win the encounter. Even if the game goes onto penalties, I would fancy a Nigeria win because we have a good penalty stopper in Enyeama and statistically, his save rate of 33% is better than Lloris’ 9% save rate.

BE: France will win 3-1.

RatingOpta stats

  • This will be only the second international meeting between France and Nigeria. The Super Eagles won the previous meeting 1-0 in Saint-Etienne back in June 2009.
  • Les Blues have lost two of their last three World Cup matches against African nations (2002 v Senegal and 2010 v South Africa). They beat Togo between these two defeats, in 2006.
  • Nigeria have scored a goal in all but one of their previous 10 World Cup finals matches against European sides.
  • The Super Eagles are aiming to become just the fourth African side to make the quarter finals of a World Cup tournament (after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010).
  • Nigeria have only won one of their last 11 World Cup matches.
  • Nigeria have lost both of their previous World Cup second round ties – 1-2 v Italy in 1994 and 1-4 v Denmark in 1998.
  • All of France’s goals during this World Cup have come from inside the box.
  • France have won all three of their previous second round ties at the World Cup (2-0 v Italy in 1986, 1-0 v Paraguay in 1998 and 3-1 v Spain in 2006).
  • Les Blues attempted more shots at goal (50; excl. blocked) than any other side during the 2014 World Cup group stages.
  • Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama kept more clean sheets than any other goalkeeper during the 2013-14 French Ligue 1 season for Lille.
  • On the last five occasions that France have progressed past Round 1 in the World Cup, they have reached the semi-final stage (1958, 1982, 1986, 1998 and 2006).
  • Karim Benzema has scored nine goals in his last nine appearances for France, including three goals in his three appearances at this World Cup.


What the Eagles say

We are here at the highest stage of football to do our best. We did well against Argentina, one of the tournament favourites, and we can do better against France in the next round. We will do our best to win, but we have nothing to lose. Many have not given us a chance, but we will do it.Joseph Yobo

It’s a great opportunity for us and the weather will affect both sides, but we hope to do what we have to do to win the match. I have spoken to a few of the players. I have played with a lot of the French players in the Champions League. And I kind of know how a lot of them play as well… giving us all the details, all we need to have going into the game. Same as Vincent (Enyeama), everyone is chipping in what they know and making sure we are fully concentrated for the game.John Mikel Obi

I said before the tournament that our mentality must be strong. Our approach to every match has always been the same: to win.  Whether we are playing against Spain at the FIFA Confederations Cup or playing against Liberia in a friendly match, I always tell the boys that victory is non–negotiable. For us, we will go into Monday’s match aiming to win. But as I also said before the competition, we take it one match at a time. We don’t even want to think of who might be lurking in the quarter finals if we win; we are not bothered. All we know is that we must win today.Stephen Keshi



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