African champions Nigeria are the apparent underdogs in Monday’s FIFA World Cup Round of 16 battle with France in Brasilia.
The Les Bleus, expectedly, finished top of their Group E with seven points, following wins over Honduras and Switzerland and a draw with Ecuador, and boast an embarrassment of talent in all departments.
Nigeria, who flew into Brazil’s administrative capital on Friday, bidding a final bye to their Team Base Camp (Vitoria Hotel Concept) in Campinas as they begin the run of ‘venue hopping’, finished second of Group F with four points after drawing with Iran, pipping Bosnia-Herzegovina and a narrow defeat by Argentina.
There is only one recorded clash between Nigeria and France at senior level, and that was a mere international friendly in Paris on June 2, 2009, which the Super Eagles won by a lone goal, scored by Joseph Akpala.
On Monday, it is a new day and a different temperament when the Eagles take the pitch against the 1998 world champions at the magnificent Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha.
The 72,000 –capacity venue is the second largest at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, coming behind the fabled Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, which can seat 79,000 spectators.
France left the last FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa in disgrace, after unexpected group stage elimination surrounded by crass player-indiscipline and subsequent sanctions on some of their star performers.
Coach Didier Deschamps did much to revamp the soul and spirit of the squad and a number of young guns aim to blot that unflattering record by going all the way in South America.
Yet, even as they lost their first match of the tournament to Argentina at the imposing Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre on Wednesday, the Super Eagles looked to be growing in confidence and feel of the tournament, and will certainly make life difficult for the Les Bleus on Monday.
“I said before the tournament that our mentality must be strong. Our approach to every match has always been the same: to win. Whether we are playing against Spain at the FIFA Confederations Cup or playing against Liberia in a friendly match, I always tell the boys that victory is non –negotiable.
“For us, we will go into Monday’s match aiming to win. But as I also said before the competition, we take it one match at a time. We don’t even want to think of who might be lurking in the quarter finals if we win; we are not bothered. All we know is that we must win on Monday,” Coach Stephen Keshi reiterated as his team flew into Federal District on Friday.
Reward for the winner in Monday’s clash that starts at 5pm Nigeria time (1pm Rio de Janeiro) is a visit to the elegant Estadio Maracana (venue for the Final on 12th July, and which also hosted the final when Brazil lost 1-2 to Uruguay in 1950).
The winner will play the victor of the tie between three –time champions Germany and African flag –bearers Algeria, who have reached the Round of 16 for the first time ever.
Six of Nigeria’s leading names play in the English Premiership alongside nine of France’s best, making this a potentially –explosive session in all ramifications.
Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo, who will reach the historic 100th –cap mark if featured against the French, features for Norwich City, with Osaze Odemwingie (Stoke City), John Mikel Obi and Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Liverpool) and Shola Ameobi (Newcastle) also involved.
They are quite familiar with Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Mathieu Debuchy, Loic Remy, Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna, Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) and Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool).
Debuchy, Remy and Sissoko are Ameobi’s team –mates at Newcastle while Moses and Liverpool mate Mamadou Sakho will embrace before hostilities commence.
Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, rated one of the best at the tournament so far, comes up against Lille OSC of France team –mate Rio Mavuba.