The fifth fixture in the knockout stage will be played between the irresistible French team and the not-so-favourites, Nigeria. France have had a great group qualification while Nigeria qualified courtesy a few favours from the other teams in their group.
France’s World Cup qualification campaign wasn’t smooth and they stuttered along the way. Ultimately they had to overcome a determined Ukraine team in the qualification playoffs (Result: 1st leg – Lost 2:0, 2nd leg – Won 3:0) in order to qualify for the finals.
Since then they seemed to have turned a corner. The disjointed and divided French team of 2010 World Cup was nowhere to be seen, coach Didier Deschamps has picked team players rather than big egos.
His exclusion of Manchester City’s Samir Nasri hasn’t proved to be a regretful decision even in the wake of their star, Frank Ribery’s injury. The team is now performing as a well-oiled unit, much more efficiently than the Germans (who are known for their effective displays).
Nigeria hardly have been the talking point in terms of their World Cup winning credentials. But on the back of an impressive 2013 where they lifted the African Cup of Nations, the fan expectations back home were high.
After the first match, where they drew against Iran, the coach and the team received a lot of flak from the Nigerian fans for their perceived lack of effort on the pitch.
In the next two matches – despite their defeat to Argentina, they improved a lot and finally seemed to have found their feet. Their coach, Stephen Keshi will be happy with the improvement shown by his players.
The game looks to be the classic encounter with France with their potent attacking talent looking for the kill from the start and Nigeria with a more compact structure, hitting them on the counter.
Nigeria’s counterattacking strength should not be neglected as they showed against Argentina that they just need space to exploit and do the damage (both Nigerian goals were scored by Ahmed Musa and both started off from a counter).
Nigeria will be looking towards John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi as the two holding midfielders to stop the likes of Mathieu Valbuena from making sumptuous pass behind them to feed their strikers. France’s right hand side looks a suspect, with Mathieu Debuchy leaving lots of space behind him when attacking as Yohann Cabaye in anchor role cannot cover space with additional responsibility of covering for the forward/wingers.
France have a very good squad and the starting XI looks settled. Valbuena’s form will be crucial as he’s the brain of this cavalier French side.
Against the Swiss, playing Karim Benzema as the centre forward and Oliver Giroud as the second striker reaped dividends as they bamboozled the Swiss defence. will they repeat that same tactic against the Nigerians too? One needs to see but one way or the other, they will be overwhelming favourites for this one.
Both teams to score: 11/10 (Boylesports)
Over 2.5 goals to be scored: 10/11 (Coral)