Nigeria enters its Round of 16 clash against France as significant underdogs. The match in Brazil’s capital will see them take on a French side who romped through Group E without a loss, while scoring eight goals along the way. Should the Super Eagles hope to progress into the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in their history, coach Stephen Keshi must make sure that his team accomplish three things.
Stop Karim Benzema
In their last match, Nigeria collapsed under the pressure of Argentina’s attack led by Lionel Messi, conceding three goals in defeat. While the French do not possess the individual brilliance that Messi brings, Didier Deschamp’s men orchestrate a fluid form of attacking football that appears to be able to score at will. They put five past a Swiss team that had built a reputation for its defensive strength, after scoring three against Honduras in their opening match.
The key to France’s goalscoring has been Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid striker has already scored three times in this World Cup, but could have easily recorded twice that amount had fortune been more on his side. While there are certainly other weapons on this French team, stopping their most dangerous man will be vital to Nigeria’s chances.
The men tasked with defending Benzema will likely be captain Jospeh Yobo and 20-year-old Kenneth Omeruo. They did reasonably well against Argentina, but will need to have their best performance of the tournament to stifle Les Bleus.
Continue to Feed the Ball to Ahmed Musa
For so much of this tournament, Nigeria has looked bereft of attacking potential. But in their last match against Argentina, Musa burst onto the scene, scoring two fantastic goals. The pacy winger now looks like Nigeria’s most likely scoring option, and he will need to have another great game if they hope to break through the French defense. Typically lining up on the right side of midfield, Musa will likely face off against Patrice Evra. The Manchester United left back has lost a step or two over the years, and may find the pace of Musa problematic on the wing.
Should Musa not prove to be a goalscoring threat, he must at least provide service to frontman Emmanuel Emenike. The Fenerbahçe forward has lacked support for most of the tournament, and will be hoping to open his scoring account against France.
Limit the Influence of Blaise Matuidi
Matuidi has been a mainstay in France’s midfield throughout the tournament, and has produced fine displays in all three matches. A box-to-box midfielder, the Paris Saint-Germain man is the orchestrator of France’s attacks forward, while also contributing in defense. Against Switzerland, Matuidi scored a fine goal after the Swiss lost possession cheaply in midfield, and he’ll undoubtedly look to make a similar contribution against Nigeria.
The man who will line up against Matuidi in midfield will be John Obi Mikel. The Chelsea midfielder hasn’t had a particularly strong World Cup as of yet, and against Argentina, lost possession multiple times and didn’t pass the ball well. Against a robust midfielder like Matuidi, those mistakes won’t go unpunished. Mikel’s performance against France may well be the largest determinant in the match.