espn

50-50 Challenge: France vs. Nigeria

France arrived in Brazil hoping to lay memories of their 2010 fiasco to rest, and have emerged as one of the strongest sides in the group stage. Meanwhile, Nigeria managed to stave off Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina to become runners-up of Group F. Our ESPNFC bloggers Jonathan Johnson (France) and Colin Udoh (Nigeria) preview the tie.

Form and fitness

Jonathan Johnson: France will arrive at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha for the clash with Nigeria in good form. Despite the goalless draw with Ecuador in their final Group E match, Les Bleus performed extremely well in the first two against Honduras and Switzerland.After scoring eight goals, conceding just two and remaining unbeaten in those three fixtures, confidence will be high in Brasilia.

However, the stalemate with Ecuador will have provided a vital reality check to repel any complacency. Mamadou Sakho's fitness is a worry after he went off injured in Rio de Janeiro, but Raphael Varane recovered in time from illness to replace him mid-match. Coach Didier Deschamps is expected to make a number of changes, returning to his strongest XI -- possibly the one that started against Switzerland -- depending on Sakho's availability.

Colin Udoh: Nigeria claimed their first European victory under Stephen Keshi when they beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in their second group game a week ago. Further confidence came from pushing Argentina hard before falling to a 3-2 loss.

Keshi has been boosted by the return of Godfrey Oboabona from injury, although he is unlikely to shift Joseph Yobo at this time. However, that piece of good news is tempered by the loss of Babatunde Michael with a broken arm. He has been ruled out of the tournament. Further aggravation comes in the form of a bonus row that saw players boycott training until the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan.

- Johnson: Digne coming of age in France squad
- Nigeria players 'have resolved bonus row'


World Cup history

JJ: France and Nigeria have only met once and it did not come at a World Cup.

The Super Eagles beat Les Bleus 1-0 in Saint-Etienne in a friendly back in 2009 thanks to a Joseph Akpala goal. Aside from that, the two have never met, but the French will be wary that the Africans have never advanced further than the last 16 at the tournament and stand on the brink of history.

Deschamps and his players will hope that Nigeria's current internal struggles affect them on the pitch as Les Tricolores have lost two of their past three fixtures -- against Senegal and South Africa -- to Confederation of African Football (CAF) opponents at the World Cup.

CU: These two have met only once before, but that was a very different French side. They were beset with internal issues and divisions and went on to have a disastrous World Cup a year later. The current side bears almost no resemblance to that team. They are more settled, have looked dangerous all tournament and scored goals for fun. And this is not a friendly game. This is the World Cup. The stakes are higher, and so are the rewards.

Key battle

JJ: The key battle in this one, from a French perspective at least, will be the one between the France attack and Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. The 31-year-old is famed in Ligue 1 for his shot-stopping ability and Deschamps will be aware that beating the Lille custodian will be a entirely separate battle to overcoming the rest of his Nigerian teammates on the pitch.

An early goal could be key for the French in this one, especially as they are making a habit of creating plenty of chances but not always taking them. Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena cannot afford to be wasteful when faced with the task of beating Enyeama.

CU: Karim Benzema against Kenneth Omeruo. At the end of the group phase, Benzema's three goals trail only Leo Messi, Neymar and Thomas Muller all on four. But his two assists are unmatched by that trio.

This means that Omeruo, who has faced down and triumphed against all but Messi, will have a difficult time on his hands. The same can be said of Benzema, actually. Not many strikers have enjoyed success against Nigeria's strapping young starlet, and the French striker may have to play to Messi-esque levels to best him.

Why does your side deserve to progress?

JJ: France deserve to go through to the quarterfinals because, aside from the Ecuador match, they have been playing some of the best football at the World Cup so far. Les Bleus have been entertaining and have produced some beautiful and breathtaking football at times.

Although not considered favourites at the start in Brazil, Deschamps' men have quickly proved that they are capable of handling the loss of the talismanic Franck Ribery and -- if anything -- are actually now thriving without him. France against either Germany or Algeria in the last eight would be a mammoth encounter, considering the historic rivalry with the Germans and the country's sizable Algerian contingent.

CU: Written off by all, including their own fans, after their opening draw against Iran, the Super Eagles have bounced back to surprise almost everyone. A gritty win over Bosnia was followed by a fearlessly gutsy give-and-take against Argentina, which could rank as one of the games of the tournament so far.

Along with Algeria, the hopes of a continent now rest on their determination, skill and fighting spirit. They will not want to disappoint.

Prediction

JJ: It will finish 2-0 to France. Nigeria have been distracted by their issues off the field over the past few days and Les Bleus' goalless draw against Ecuador will mean that the players are keen to prove themselves once again after losing a little momentum.

Had the French beaten the South Americans, there would have been more than a good chance that complacency crept in ahead of this game. Instead, the disappointing result means that Deschamps' men must prove themselves once more and put in a strong performance in the Brazilian capital.

CU: Confidence, chances and goals were in ample supply against Argentina. France is a bit of an Afro-flavoured team, and Keshi has enjoyed success against African sides. I'll go for 2-1 to Nigeria.

Related Topics:
sports espn fifa world cup nigeria france
(Copyright ©2014 ESPN Internet Ventures.)
Load Comments