by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2014)
Super-Eaglesʼ Jinx Continues
With just over ten minutes remaining a tight match turned decisively in Franceʼs favour. Lilleʼs Vincent Enyeama flapped at Mathieu Valbuenaʼs corner and palmed it to Paul Pogba. Juventusʼ midfielder nodded it in to give Didier Deschampsʼ team the lead. It was a pity that the last keeper to concede a goal in the first round and jointly led keepers throughout Europe in clean sheets and made important saves in this match made the mistake that cost the Africans champions dear.
Two minutes into injury a different corner routine also involving Valbuena led to the second. A short corner to the Marseille midfielder caught the Nigerian defence out. Valbuena squared it for substitute Antoine Griezman. Enyeama was beaten by a deflection off Super-Eagles captain Joseph Yobo. Shortly after the Fenerbahçe defenderʼs error, Deschamps allowed Valbuena to receive a well earned ovation from French fans and waste a bit of time.
On the balance of play France deserved to continue Nigeriaʼs last sixteen jinx and put the horrors of their wretched campaign four years ago firmly behind them. Deschamps chose to deploy Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on the left and Arsenalʼs Oliver Giroud in the striker role. Both proved ineffective. The introduction of Griezman proved to be the turning point.
Nigeria had been the better side in the first half. After 18 minutes CSKA Moscowʼs Ahmed Musa – the first and so far only Nigerian to score two goals in a match at the World Cup Finals – crossed for the much touted, but so far ineffective Emmanuel Emenike to score his first goal with a deft flick past Tottenham Hotspurʼs Hugo Lloris. Sadly for Stephen Keshi and his assistant Daniel Amokachi it was ruled offside and it was – just.
A mistimed but reckless tackle by Paris Saint-Germainʼs Blaise Matuidi ended Lazioʼs Ogenyi Onaziʼs afternoon. Matuidi was shown a yellow card by American referee Mark Geiger. Matuidi was genuinely apologetic to Onazi, but the midfielder was stretchered off. He would not return.
Enyeama made a couple of important saves, but could do nothing when former Newcastle United favourite Yohan Cabaye picked up the pieces of John Mikel Obiʼs clearance and shot from outside the area. He was very unlucky that it beat Enyeama, but struck the crossbar.
Midway through the first half Pogba surged through the centre, playing a neat one-two with Valbuena before volleying. Enyeama denied him. With just over twenty minutes remaining Benzema and Griezman combined on the left to create a golden opportunity for Benzema. Enyeama took the pace off it and Victor Moses scrambled back to clear.
Eventually the pressure told. France got the goals to take then through to the quarter-final and a tie against either Algeria or Germany.