By Brian Homewood
France ended Nigeria’s hopes of a first World Cup quarter-final appearance when they scored two late goals to beat the Super Eagles 2-0 in a rough and physical second-round match on Monday.
Midfielder Paul Pogba put France ahead in the 79th minute, heading in at the far post after Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama flapped at Mathieu Valbuena’s corner following a sustained spell of French pressure.
The win was sealed when Joseph Yobo turned a low cross into his own goal in stoppage time and France will play Germany or Algeria in the last eight.
It was a controversial victory, however, as the game had swung France’s way after Nigeria’s influential midfielder Ogenyi Onazi was injured and carried off following a late tackle from Blaise Matuidi, who was lucky to escape with only a yellow card.
Nigeria also had a first-half goal by Emmanuel Emenike disallowed in a marginal offside decision.
“I am very proud of everything we did from the start,” France coach Didier Deschamps said in a television interview.
“There was tension out there. They are a very strong side and there were a lot of duels. But we’re through. We’re in the quarter finals and we’ll do everything we can to go a stage further.”
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was upset at both the tackling on Onazi and the disallowed goal.
“I am not happy with the officiating,” Keshi told a news conference. “On two occasions Onazi had very bad tackles. He’s out now probably for weeks.
“This is the first time in my life I speak about the referee but it wasn’t good.”
“If you look at the goal that we scored I don’t think there was any infringement,” he added. “I would love to know the reason why the referee disallowed the goal.”
Pogba was elated after scoring such an important goal.
“There are no words to describe this,” he said.
“I know there is a whole country behind us. Scoring that goal really liberated us. I am so happy for the team and all France. I’m speechless.”
“To score a goal for your country, especially in an important match like this to get into the World Cup quarter finals, it’s one of the best moments of my life.”
Nigeria had been defending increasingly desperately in the run-up to Pogba’s goal.
France were centimetres from going ahead when Karim Benzema poked the ball past Enyeama, who managed to partly block his shot and Victor Moses hooked the ball off the line.
Nigeria escaped again when John Obi Mikel cleared Benzema’s shot off the line, then Yohan Cabaye struck the underside of the crossbar with a thunderous long-range strike.
Enyeama then tipped Benzema’s close-range header over the bar, leading to the corner from which France scored their first goal.
The first half had been much more even.
Nigeria made a bright start and thought they had gone ahead when Emmanuel Emenike turned in Ahmed Musa’s low cross at the near post but the effort was ruled offside in an extremely close call.
Pogba was denied when he met Valbuena’s low cross from the right with a flying volley, only to be brilliantly denied by Enyeama who parried the ball away with a tremendous reflex save.
Nigeria produced some neat moves in midfield interspersed with basic unforced errors and Mikel was lucky to escape when he sliced Patrice Evra’s low cross towards his own goal and was relieved to see the ball land in Enyeama’s hands.
Nigeria should have gone ahead just before halftime when France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris parried Emenike’s fierce shot back into his area but Moses handled as he attempted to control the rebound.