The exciting – if not topsy-turvy campaign of Nigeria’s Super Eagles at the 2014 FIFA World Cup came to an abrupt end yesterday, as the team lost 0-2 to France in their second round clash. The disappointment of losing was however compensated by the brave showing of the rather less-fancied Super Eagles who matched the French – shot for shot and kick for kick -throughout the match and actually looked the more imposing side for all of 80 minutes.
The build up to the game was marred by squabbles over a pay dispute and Nigerians had feared this would have distracted their preparations but they did not need to fear a bad performance, as barring a few errors, lack of finesse and ruthlessness here and there, the players all stood up to be counted and the country can be proud of their performance. Enyeama once again made crucial saves, Oshaniwa was strong throughout and helped deny Pogba an effort on goal in the second half, Efe Ambrose supported Musa well down the right while staying tight defensively, Joseph Yobo was solid, Omeruo held firm, Ogenyi Onazi was Nigeria’s main midfield man before the French contrived to force him off with a nasty-looking injury after bad tackles from Pogba and Matuidi. Moses produced a goalline clearance, and Osaze was a constant thorn in the side of the French defence.
For so long it had looked so good for the Super Eagles as they took the game to France early. Attacking with pace down the wings through both Moses and Ahmed Musa, the Super Eagles looked threatening early on Nigeria’s pace and drive in attack left France disorganised early on. Only a flag for offside denied the powerful Emenike the opener, when he tapped home Musa’s cross. France right-back Mathieu Debuchy breathed a sigh of relief having horribly sliced a clearance to Ahmed Musa, whose low cross was touched home by Emenike at the near post.
Enyeama made a remarkable reaction save after Pogba drove forward and smashed a 23rd-minute volley goalwards on the end of Mathieu Valbuena’s return cross.
A frantic close to the half matched its opening, with France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris far from convincing behind a speculative Emenike drive.
Peter Odemwingie – the match-winner in Nigeria’s decisive Group F victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina – tested Lloris with a 65th-minute drive that bounced awkwardly, while tension in the French ranks was increasingly shown by sloppy errors in possession.
After taking out the influential Onazi, the French then ramped up the pressure, as the game entered its final stages and they got their reward. First, Benzema’s effort was partially stopped by Enyeama and Moses had to race back to clear as the ball looped towards the net. Then Benzema’s low cross was cleared for Cabaye to thunder a rasping shot against the bar and Enyeama excelled again to keep out a Benzema header.But he erred from Valbuena’s resulting corner as France took the lead in cruel fashion.
Nigeria’s defence became disjointed in the closing minutes and Yobo’s own goal under pressure from Griezmann made the defender’s 100th cap one to forget.
After the match, 33-year-old captain, Joseph Yobo announced his retirement from the national side as he became the first Nigerian to play 100 international matches. He has been a worthy servant of his country but must now leave the stage for the younger generation to take over. Coach, Stephen Keshi has also confirmed that he is set to leave his post, after not having his contract renewed by the NFF.
After a campaign which started with that ignominious draw against Iran, the Super Eagles can hold their heads high in defeat, as they equaled Nigeria’s best-ever performance on the World Stage.
Damilola Orehin is a freelance creative writer with interesting opinions and analysis of sports, entertainment and social issues. He has written on several established print and online platforms and he showcases his deep-rooted passion for a wide variety of sports at tecmosports.blogspot.com.
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