I remember looking at the match statistics about halfway through the second half. Possession: even. Shots and shots-on-target: even. Pass completion: even. An accurate reflection of the balance of play and testament to the effort that Nigeria put into this game. And then, in the last 10-15 minutes, France almost doubled their shot count.
Despite being able to match France in both attacking intent and timely (if not necessarily rock solid) defense, Nigeria had no answer for two things: set pieces and substitute Antoine Griezmann who replaced Happy Elbows Giroud just past the hour mark. Here's a picture that basically tells the story of Nigeria's attention to set pieces.
France's corner in the fifth minute has Odemwingie's full attention. Still drinking when it's taken pic.twitter.com/2jMEFcsyJ4— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) June 30, 2014
Giroud's flying elbow into Mikel's face and Blaise Matuidi's horrendous ankle-destroying tackle on Ogenyi Onazi were two lucky escapes for the French, by the way. If either of those red cards are given, we'd probably be talking about an African team in the quarterfinals.
That's not to say that the Super Eagles didn't have their fair share of luck. Yohan Cabaye hit the bar, while both Victor Moses and Mikel produced goal-line (or near goal-line) clearances. Oh, and Vincent Enyeama was immense when called upon. Except on that one play, with that one weak flap at the corner, when he tipped the ball on towards Paul Pogba's head who flexed his neck and finished with aplomb. The 21-year-old was easily France's best player, especially in the first half, showing just why he's the object of many a transfer deal desire.
France's goal with just ten minutes to go visibly took the wind out of Nigerian sails and unlike in yesterday's games, there was to be no miracle equalizer. Instead we got one more set piece error and a Joseph Yobo own goal. France now move on to face the winner of Germany and Algeria, while Nigeria go home to contemplate what could've been had they found just that extra bit of quality either in defense or in attack.
Chelsea's three-man contingent all started for the Super Eagles, Kenneth Omeruo and John Obi Mikel at their usual spots, Victor Moses as the number 10 behind the striker. Though as we've seen before in the group stages, Nigeria's front line was fairly fluid and were causing a surprising number of problems for France. After all the injury drama and confusion of the last week, Moses was perhaps a surprise inclusion, but he probably had the best day of any of the Chelsea men. While, as usual, he wasn't really in danger of finding a quality end-product and produced a few hilarious moments of dribbling the ball into his own legs, he was very much involved in most good things for Nigeria, linking up well with Emmauel Emenike and Peter Odemwingie. On the flip side, Mikel was quietly unimpressive, though he complimented Onazi well enough while the Lazio man was still on the pitch. Omeruo was his usual self and dealt with France's attacking arsenal well enough. Crucially, unlike against Argentina, he did not commit any silly fouls.
With Nigeria eliminated, Chelsea's World Cup numbers drop to just seven, spread across three nations, two of whom are still to play in the round of 16.