Paul Pogba lead a determined France through to the quarter finals against a Nigerian team that wasn’t going to give up that easily with Enyeama between the sticks. An own goal at the end however, killed the dreams of the African country that was never afraid to dream.
Formation & Line-Ups
France (4-3-3): Lloris, Varane, Koscielny, Debuchy, Evra, Cabaye, Pogba, Matuidi, Valbuena, Benzema, Giroud
Nigeria (4-2-3-1): Enyeama, Yobo, Omeruo, Ambrose, Oshaniwa, Mikel, Onazi, Moses, Odemwingie, Musa, Emenike
Goals: Pogba (79), Yobo OG (90)
When France attacked, they were all over the place
… with the exception of Pogba and Cabaye. They sat in the middle and pulled the strings, with Pogba at times pushing forward. In the second half, with the game still not having witnessed any goals, France tried to use height to their advantage. When the ball was won on the left, overloads were caused on the right side of the pitch. Cabaye and Valbuena excel in crossing the ball right to the man they want to find. They mostly transitioned into 4-4-2 whenever they got forward, though that didn’t give them many windows of opportunities to strike the ball cleanly.
They had a rough idea on what they had to do when they won the ball back, but if you were given an aerial shot of the entire pitch, you wouldn’t exactly call it a plan. They were reactive to each and every particular instance. Tactical aptitude of individual players came into the fray.
Nigeria tried to use possession to their advantage
The African country pressed really high to win the ball back. This was one of the many reasons they dominated possession for large stretches of time. The idea on paper is quite simple. Keep the ball with you, and the other team won’t have a chance to score. However this isn’t the start of 2009. The entire idea of football being based on possession to win silverware is filled with loopholes.
Nigeria were very good at ball retention Playing short passes and finding their man in a particular area of the pitch where the player could go on to find another player. It was a continuous loop that was aided with Nigeria’s smart player rotation system, meaning France would have to completely depend on marking in zones. At one point of time they could be marking player A , only to see that after a few passes , they are marking player B. A very smart move, which needed an end product.
The final product never came, apart from an offside goal that could easily have not been offside. Nigeria could deem themselves as really unlucky to have come unstuck, despite tactically being much better than their opponents. They are desperately crying out for a new striker.
Nigeria’s reluctance to clear at the back and the Eneyeama hype
Nigeria’s defense reminded me a lot of the Barcelona backline that picked up the ball 7 times out of their own net over two legs against a Bayern side that had undergone revolution. When the ball could easily have been cleared, Nigeria opted to pass it out from the back and give it to their wingers to take it forward. Odemwingie lost the ball but won a foul when he tried to use his skill set to get past the French midfield when he came back to defend. It’s highly risky and not something you should be doing when you’re finding or chasing a solitary goal. Simple probability would tell you that if you lobbed the ball clear to someone tall upfront, then you had a better chance. They were in fact quite lucky that France always opted to block passing lanes rather than press directly on their man. This is where France failed to capitalise on the shortcomings of the Nigerian defense.
Eneyeama and Ochoa have become famous for one reason- saving their country when the country needs it the most, thus becoming a standout player while playing a position where becoming a hero isn’t that easy. Lets be honest though, if the Nigerian and Mexican defense wasn’t as bad as it is, none of the goalkeepers would have had the chance to shine. The chances of there being an odd mistake here and there even more higher. You could never know how the situation would be if things in the defensive third improved.
Key Player of the Match
Paul Pogba bossed the midfield. Showed off his technical ability with a brilliantly hit shot that forced the Nigerian goalkeeper into making another brilliant save. His awareness in the middle helped Valbuena and Cabaye in keeping up the fluidity of the midfield. He worked hard in keeping the ball and releasing it to other players while also getting himself inside the box to give France an aerial advantage. He capped off a wonderful performance with an exquisite header, as the clubs chasing him now find themselves emptying their pocket even more to land him.
Where does this leave them?
France now move on to face Germany as Nigeria and Algeria bow out of the World Cup as the last African representatives who can be proud of the lengths they have reached in this year’s World Cup. Didier Deschamps however needs to have a close look at the team. There are minute tactical and individual problems which combine together to form a big problem. This could lead to their downfall against Germany before the end of the 90 minutes. Pogba will need to be on top form and Griezmann needs to start more often than not.
This article was written by Sherry Philips. Follow him on Twitter @TransitionPhase