France had trounced their way through the easiest group of the tornament, yet Nigeria looked likely to give them a much sterner test after restructuring the side that disappointed against Iran in their opening game, claiming second place in Group F.
Olivier Giroud was chosen over Antoine Griezmann up front and Laurent Koscielny replaced the injured Mamadou Sakho for France, while Victor Moses was brought back into the Nigeria side for the injured Michael Babatunde.
Nigeria had the better of the first half. Quick and direct forwards meant they could break quickly, with Victor Moses drifting towards the left to link with Ahmed Musa and Peter Odemwingie coming inside meaning Efe Ambrose could overlap down the right, while Ogenyi Onazi and John Obi Mikel ensured they were strong in the middle.
Ambrose got forward less as the game progressed as Karim Benzema remained high up the pitch on the left and the withdrawn positions of the French midfield meant there was space between the lines for Mathieu Valbuena to move into when Mikel and Onazi were pulled forward, but Nigeria were performing better in an evenly poised game.
There were two changes that won the game for France. The first was Reuben Gabriel’s introduction into the Nigerian midfield after Onazi was injured by a poor challenge from Blaise Matiudi, severely weakening Nigeria in the middle. The second was the substitution of Giroud for Griezmann – the Arsenal striker was far too static and Benzema was left frustrated in his wide role, yet Griezmann buzzed around the centre linking play when he came on. Combined with Nigeria no longer being as strong in this area, the tide of the game changed direction.
The French presumably won’t continue with Giroud in the quarter-final, while the Nigerians won’t continue at all. They had been one of the more quietly impressive teams at the tournament against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Argentina, but won’t really be missed as the World Cup gets to its later stages.