France have impressed plenty of onlookers so far, but to stand a chance of repeating their 1998 World Cup triumph they are going to have to get past a strong Nigeria outfit in Brasilia. Experts Julien Laurens and Colin Udoh preview the second round clash.
Julien Laurens on France: France have been training at 1 pm local time all this week to get used to playing at that time. It was also revealed last week that before flying out to Brazil, Didier Deschamps gave two books to his players: Phil Jackson’s “11 Rings” and Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography. That may not help Mamadou Sakho though, as he is a major doubt for the game after picking up a thigh injury against Ecuador last week. So Deschamps will replace him with Laurent Koscielny who played very well against Ecuador. For the rest, the manager will field his strongest team and Paul Pogba should be included in it. He was dropped against Switzerland but he should return in midfield where Yohan Cabaye is back from suspension. Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema should be the front three once again.
Colin Udoh on Nigeria: Michael Babatunde has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament after he got his arm in the way of an Ogenyi Onazi effort that looked destined for the net, but thankfully, Victor Moses is back and could be in line for a first start since the opening game against Iran. Babatunde's absence means Stephen Keshi will have to decide who goes in that slot. If Moses doesn't start, Ramon Azeez could be reinstated. If Moses does start, then Osaze Odemwingie could be shunted centrally. But there is also the option of saving the Chelsea man for an impact sub, and starting forward Uche Nwofor instead. Oh, and captain Joseph Yobo gets to make history as the first Nigerian to reach 100 caps.
Julien Laurens: The French only drew after a fairly disappointing performance against Ecuador last week. They created many chances but were not as clinical as earlier in the tournament. However, their display has not lowered their confidence or their momentum. They are feeling good right now and are very excited about this game. They don’t fear anyone and have now the ambition of winning the World Cup. Deschamps has rotated well his squad so the players who will start against Nigeria will be fit and ready to go.
Colin Udoh: Their last game was proof positive that this Super Eagles team could mix it with the very best. Despite losing 3-2 to Argentina, they did not look in any way overawed by their more superior opponents, especially in the second half. They looked short of goals in their two opening games but found two against Argentina. That should bode well, especially considering they had 12 shots at the Argentina goal, even if only three were on target. But two of those went in.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
France coach Didier Deschamps: “They [Nigeria] are very solid at the back and have pace and power up front. We will have to play our game and focus on ourselves. We are not getting carried away.”
Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi: "I was happy to see that the aggression and fight was back against Argentina. That's what I want to see. If we play like that, we can beat anyone."
Julien Laurens: Blaise Matuidi has been one of France’s best players so far in this World Cup. He has been really impressive in midfield, both defensively where he has worked very hard and offensively where he has scored and created many chances with his runs from deep. Once again he will be a key player for France, especially against the very physical Nigerian midfielders.
Colin Udoh: Emmanuel Emenike is yet to score at this tournament, but he has been an influential driving force in Nigeria's attack. His strength, balance, pace, skill and aerial ability continue to trouble defenders no end. A burgeoning partnership with Odemwingie is gradually clicking into place and there is little doubt that goal is coming. Against France would be as good a time as any.
Julien Laurens: France to keep a clean sheet at 1.94.
Colin Udoh: Still on the subject of Emenike, he has a good goalscoring record for Nigeria and should be a good bet for an anytime goal at 5.75 after failing to find it in three previous games. Ahmed Musa saw a goal bound free-kick saved against Iran, missed a plethora of chances against Bosnia before scoring two against Argentina. Put him down for a goal at 5.75, whilst he's 2.20 to register over 1.5 shots on target.
Julien Laurens: France to win 1-0 at 6.50.
Colin Udoh: Difficult to call, but Nigeria let in goals in the same stingy fashion as they tuck them in. I'm going out on a limb for 3-1 Nigeria at 61.00.
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