Match – France v Nigeria
Stadium – Estadio Nacional
Goal Scorers Pogba, Yobo (og)
Lovely to see a Celt playing in the Estadio Nacional again even if it was in Brasilia rather than Lisbon!
This was far and away Nigeria’s best performance of the tournament with Efe being one of their most influential players. In the first half Benzema played opposite Efe and had no joy from him at all. In fact Efe was much more influential in an attacking sense than Benzema and initiated many of Nigeria’s best moves. Nigeria were undoubtedly the better team in the first half and were very unlucky to have a good goal by Eminike ruled out for offside. The lead would not have flattered them. Efe was outstanding in this half being very comfortable on the ball, running past players, dummying, changing direction and mainly passing the ball well. Nigeria had a very positive attitude and there was little evidence of the sideway passing that bedevilled some of their earlier performances. Efe, in particular, was always seeking a forward pass or run and continually made himself available for the ball. When he was called upon to defend he did so with intelligence refusing to be drawn when Benzema moved to a deeper position and indicating to his midfield to pick him up.
This pattern continued for the first fifteen minutes of the second half with Nigeria still looking to be the most likely side to score and then Deschamps changed the nature of the game with an inspired substitution. Giroud was replaced by Griezmann and this enabled Benzema to mainly play through the middle whilst Griezmann played wide. In effect there was more interchanging than this but this presented Nigeria, and Efe, with a new set of problems which resulted in Efe being forced into a more defensive position. This also allowed Evra to be an attacking force in the game for the first time. Soon after this Nigeria were dealt a severe blow to their game plan when Onazi was injured and replaced by Gabriel. Onazi had been an impressive figure in front of Nigeria’s defence often providing the platform for their attacks. His replacement, Gabriel, couldn’t get a game for Kilmarnock last season and the reasons for this showed as the game progressed! As a consequence of these changes the French started to get the upper hand, particularly from about 70 minutes onwards. In fact, in the five minutes before they scored, France had two shots hit off the line and one hit the bar. In addition Enyeama made a wonderful save from Benzema who was suddenly looking to be the world class player that he is. The first French goal was one that Enyeama would rather forget as he flapped at a cross but by this time the Nigerian team, including Efe, were out on their feet. The second goal came as no surprise as the defence was posted missing as Yobo turned the ball in to his own net under pressure from Griezmann. I was very impressed by Griezmann’s pace and skill when he came on and he undoubtedly made a big difference against a tiring defence.
Whilst I would have loved to see Efe play in a World Cup quarter final it will be good to have him back with the bhoys and ready for these all important Champions’ League qualifiers.
Player Rating 5/5
The substitution by Deschamps was a huge compliment to the influence that Efe was having on the game, both in the attacking sense and also by nullifying Benzema. He has had an excellent World Cup and at no time looked out of place, coping well with players of the quality of Di Maria and Benzema (very useful experience should we play against Real Madrid in the near future). His positional sense was mainly very good and he normally chose good moments to run with the ball without causing any heart attacks to his fans and team-mates! If Efe plays like this for us in Europe I’ll be delighted. He will no doubt be disappointed to be eliminated from the tournament but he can be proud of his performances, as can we!