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World Cup Today: Monday
by Paul Kennedy, June 30th, 2014 4:28PM
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TAGS:  france, nigeria, world cup 2014


[BRAZIL 2014] Four years ago, France went home winless and disgraced after a player mutiny. Now, it is headed to the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup after a 2-0 win over Nigeria.

The Bleus broke open the game after the introduction of sub Antoine Griezmann late in the second half and won on a header by Paul Pogba and own goal by Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo, both off corner kicks.

With Olivier Giroud up top alongside Karim Benzema, the French created few opportunities for themselves, but that changed after the introduction of Griezmann on the left wing in the 61st minute. Eight minutes later, Victor Moses was called on to clear the ball off the goal line from a shot by Benzema deflected by goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

In the 76th minute, Yohan Cabaye hit the crossbar from the edge of the area off a corner kick, and two minutes later Pogba looped a header over a maze of players after Enyeama could only tip on Mathieu Valbuena's corner kick. As stoppage time began, the French put the game away off a short corner as Valbuena played the ball into Griezmann and the pass deflected off Yobo into the goal.

"There are no words to describe this," said Pogba, one of the young stars of the French squad. Just last year he was playing on France's U-20 team that the U.S. U-20s tied, 1-1, at the Under-20 World Cup the French eventually won.

"I know there is a whole country behind us," he added. "Scoring that goal really liberated us. I am so happy for the team and all France. I'm speechless."

"To score a goal for your country, especially in an important match like this to get into the World Cup quarterfinals, it's one of the best moments of my life."

For the first hour, Nigeria was very much in the game, and the Super Eagles had their complaints with American referee Mark Geiger. French midfielder Blaise Matuidi was lucky to escape with only a yellow card for a second-half challenge on Ogenyi Onazi that forced the Nigerian midfielder to leave the game.

"The referee is a human being and is bound to make some mistakes," said Nigeria coach Steven Keshi, "but a lot of mistakes were questionable. I'm not happy about it, but he is the alpha and omega and decides what goes on the pitch."

The win continued France's Jekyll-and-Hyde performances at the World Cup. In the last five tournaments, it has been champion, finished last in its group, finished runner-up, finished last in its group and now reached the quarterfinals with 10 goals scored in four games. Overall, the Bleus have been to the World Cup 14 times. They've exited seven times at the first hurdle and advanced at least as far as the final eight on the seven other occasions.

"I am very proud of everything we did from the start," said French coach Didier Deschamps. "There was tension out there. They are a very strong team and there were a lot of duels. But we're through. We're in the quarterfinals and we'll do everything we can to go a stage further."

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