Late goals seal hard-fought French victory
Two French-speaking countries, France (duh) and Nigeria, came up against each other with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
France, who have been one of the best sides in the tournament so far, eased through Group E, dismissing Switzerland, Honduras and Ecuador to erase the memories of a horrible group stage showing at World Cup 2010.
Group F’s Nigeria surprised many people by coming through the group in second place. Bosnia, although competing in their first ever World Cup, were the bookies’ favourites to progress, but a solid showing from Nigeria (especially in a great match against Argentina) earned them a deserved spot in the round of 16.
Despite being favourites, the French would have been well aware of the threat posed by their Nigerian opponents – and the men in green did not disappoint.
The two teams battled in a very tight first half where Nigeria gave as good as they got, any pre-match predictions of this being an easy win for France were quickly discarded.
Both teams performed well up until the half time whistle, but thanks to good defending (and good goalkeeping from Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama, in particular) neither side was able to get on the scoresheet.
And the second half progressed in much the same way.
While both sides were threatening with the ball, neither team could seem to put it into the back of the net. France’s Yohan Cabaye almost scored the goal of the tournament when his long-range dipping volley swerved incredibly and crashed against the underside of the bar, but still, there was no breakthrough.
That finally changed when Vincent Enyeama came out to claim a corner, only to see all of his hard work undone as a mistimed punch floated the ball right on top of Paul Pogba’s head, and the talented French midfielder nodded home to give France a 79th-minute lead.
The victory was sealed when a last-minute short corner routine from France was executed perfectly, forcing Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo to turn the ball into his own net.
France had to work for it, but they finally ran out 2-0 winners – a result which sees them through to the quarter-finals, where they would meet the winners of the day’s later match between Germany and Algeria.
It’s safe to say they were hoping for an Algerian surprise.
Algeria so close to upsetting Germany
And in the day’s second game, Algeria almost gave them just that.
They met a Germany side that had come through Group G relatively untested, and remained one of the favourites to win the World Cup.
The Algerians, huge underdogs in Group H, were not predicted to make it this far, but their success has all been on merit. They were easily the most interesting side in their group (including winners Belgium) and they threatened to give Germany a very tough game.
Right from the off, it was evident that Algeria would definitely give Germany something to think about.
Despite Germany dominating possession, it was the Algerians who looked the most dangerous. Their tenacious pressing often left Germany scrambling as they were pressured heavily on the ball, and Algeria’s rapid tempo meant that every time the Germans turned over the ball, they were left chasing lightning-fast counterattacks.
A scoreless first half gave Germany the chance to collect themselves, and the ineffective Mario Götze was replaced by Chelsea winger André Schürrle in an attempt to give the Algerian defenders something new to think about.
But even then, Algeria refused to lay down. If not for Manuel Neuer, who defined what it is to be a “sweeper keeper” with his performance, Algeria could have won the game by the time the 90 minute mark rolled around.
Instead, an increasingly nervous German fan base would have to endure two halves of extra time, hoping that finally their team could make the breakthrough.
They didn’t have to hope for long, as substitute André Schürrle bundled home a cross from Thomas Müller to give Germany the lead just two minutes into the first half of extra time.
The goal knocked the wind out of Algeria’s sails, and Mesut Özil finally rounded off the victory when a scramble inside the Algerian box ended with Özil capitalizing on a stranded goalkeeper and smashing the all into the roof of the net.
Just a minute later Algeria replied, when Abdelmoumene Djabou finished from a fantastic right-wing cross to Germany’s back post, but the goal was too little, too late. It would only be consolation, and Germany would claim the incredibly tight 2-1 victory.
Credit must go to Algeria, who did themselves proud and won over neutral fans around the world.
But Germany must use this as a wake-up call. They are now through to the quarter-finals, but they’ve yet to come close to playing their best football – only a 4-0 drubbing of Portugal (which was aided by a red card and an implosion by the Portuguese) could be considered a dominant German performance.
While it bodes well that they can continue to win despite not being at their best, their best will need to come soon – France waits for them in the quarter-finals, and the real Germany will need to show their face if they are to claim the crown that many people, and especially the German public, are expecting.