In their first two group games they were free-scoring but France exercised caution with their approach to this encounter. Didier Deschamps’ side adopted a deep defensive line in the early stages in order to nullify the pace of the Nigerian forward line. The first time Emmanuel Emenike ran behind the French defence was for the disallowed goal, even that was only ten yards out – illustrative of how little space to run into the number nine and his compatriots were afforded. The deep-lying back four meant Nigerian holding midfielders John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi saw a lot of early ball, with France often playing on the counter-attack and the Super Eagles at times putting them on the back foot. Although the respect France showed the Nigerians early on was understandable given the Africans’ performance against Argentina it was only when Deschamps’ men moved further up the pitch that they produced the spell of pressure required to make the breakthrough.
There was no shortage of effort from Olivier Giroud heading the French attack early in the match but the threat he posed Nigeria in forward areas was minimal. Giroud’s mere presence in the middle also helped Nigeria subdue arguably Les Bleus’ most potent attacking talent – Karim Benzema, who cut a frustrated isolated figure on the left, that was until the introduction of Antoine Griezmann. The wide man from Real Sociedad’s palpable familiarity with his position on the left gave the French the balance in attack they had been missing prior to his introduction. He was quick of mind and body and shortly after his arrival on the field Griezmann played the return pass in a one-two with Benzema – now reinvigorated after being moved centrally – that led to France’s best chance up until that moment, with only a goal-line clearance from Victor Moses denying the Real Madrid striker a goal. From that point the European side swarmed into their African counterparts’ half eventually forcing home the crucial opening goal.
Vincent Enyeama kept 21 clean sheets in Ligue 1 last season for Lille, so was already a popular figure in France. But he is likely to be the toast of many a Frenchman this evening – not just Lille fans – as his ill-conceived plan to come for crosses led to his team’s downfall after what had been a spirited performance. Enyeama made decent stops to deny Benzema and Pogba but having already been founding wanting when trying to claim French crosses he would have been better-placed on his line for the ball into the box that led to Pogba’s opener, rather than wildly attempting to claim the delivery. His botched attempt to collect the ball enabled Les Bleus to strike a blow that the Super Eagles never recovered from.
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