Blown calls, and blown plays: Nigeria heads home with heads held high, while also feeling aggrieved over its demise against France. The Super Eagles put on a valiant display in Brasilia, at times their speed and skill proving to be too much for the French to handle. They could have easily had a few game-changing calls go their way. The first was a clear-as-day penalty decision against Patrice Evra for his rugby tackle on Peter Odemwingie inside the box that wasn’t made by the officials. This came minutes after Olivier Giroud aimed an elbow at John Obi Mikel in another incident unspotted by the referee. Then early in the second half, Blaise Matuidi went in hard at Ogenyi Onazi ankle, a dangerous foul that earned him a yellow card when it should have been a red. Three blown calls that could have swung the momentum and the game firmly in the Africans’ favour—no wonder the Super Eagles were bitter about the officiating.
At the same time Nigeria was its worst enemy. Vincent Enyeama was brilliant on the day, the Nigerian shot stopper coming up with the best goalkeeping performance of this tournament. Enyeama made a number of fantastic saves to thwart the French and keep his team in the contest. But he flapped at a Mathieu Valbuena corner kick floated deep into the box, leaving the Nigerian net untended. The ball fell kindly to Paul Pogba, who scored on a simple header with Enyeama out of position to give Les Bleus the lead in the 79th minute. Moments late, the Nigerian defence was caught napping and totally unprepared to contend with another corner kick. France took full advantage and quickly worked the ball deep into the box where Antoine Griezmann’s attempt deflected off Joseph Yobo and trickled past a helpless Enyeama. After the game, Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi had some choice words for the officials. Understandable, but it conveniently absolves his players of responsibility, and they were ultimately responsible.
Germany gets it wrong, then gets it right: Maybe Pep Guardiola is to blame. The Spanish manager had great success deploying Philipp Lahm, one of the best fullbacks in soccer, in central midfield this past Bundesliga campaign. Lahm is Germany’s best player, so on the one hand it makes sense that manager Joachim Low used him in central midfield, a key position, against Algeria. But given Germany’s midfield depth and relative weakness in defence (even more pronounced with Mats Hummels out injured), Lahm should have started at his natural right fullback spot from the start, with Sami Khedira in central midfield. Algeria took full advantage, with Islam Slimani using his pace to get behind Germany’s back line. The German defence was exposed in the opening half, as goalkeeper Manuel Neuer rushed off his line a number of times to play sweeper. Mario Gotze, meanwhile, offered very little in an advanced attacking role.
Low addressed that at the start of the second half when he subbed in Andre Schurrle for Gotze. Schurrle’s direct style of play and runs instantly made Germany a more dangerous prospect going forward, and it was the Chelsea star’s goal off a lovely setup from Thomas Muller that ended the deadlock early in extra time. The Schurrle-Gotze swap was one turning point. The other came in the 70th minute when Khedira replaced Shkodran Mustafi, who proved to be a defensive liability. With Khedira now in central midfield and Lahm moved back into defence, the Germans had true balance and began to dominate the Algerians. Lahm offered the attack more width and solidity in the back, while Khedira ably protected the back four. But for a lack of finishing up front, Germany would have finished off the Africans in regulation time. No matter. They still got the job done—eventually—thanks in no small part to two key tactical moves from Low that tipped the balance in Germany’s favour.
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Stat of the day
It’s the first time in last 65 years that France progress in knock-out not having Zidane or Platini
Early in extra time, the Germans worked the ball down the right channel with Thomas Muller sending a pass deep into the penalty area. At the same time, Andre Schurrle ran across the box to get on the end of Muller’s ball, and after beating his marker in the process, he dragged his foot back to score on a clever back heel.
Save of the day
Vincent Enyeama made a number of highlight reel saves against the French. But the Nigeria goalkeeper’s best effort came in the 22nd minute when Mathieu Valbeuna swung a beautiful ball from the right into the box. Paul Pogba hit a powerful volley, but Enyeama dove to his right to brilliantly palm away the Frenchman’s powerful strike.
Best moment of the day
When Thomas Muller tripped over his feet late in the game as Germany tried an over-elaborative free kick. Pure comedy gold.
He said it
“The ref is a human being, but a lot of mistakes were questionable. Giroud elbow, Pogba foot up … he decides what happens on the field. I’m not happy with the ref.” – Stephen Keshi, Nigeria coach
1) Mathieu Valbuena: A number of French midfielders were outstanding. But Valbuena’s effort, marked by his great passing and superb. 2) Andre Schurrle: The Chelsea man transformed Germany’s front line when he came on as a sub to start the second half. He netted the winner in extra time and set up another. 3) Vincent Enyeama: Another outstanding effort from the Nigerian goalkeeper, who stood on his head at times.