RIO DE JANEIRO:
After flashes of magnificent football in the group phase, France will look to confirm their World Cup credentials in Monday’s last-16 tie against Nigeria.
In previous World Cups, France have always reached at least the semi-finals after qualifying from the group phase, but circumspection has become the order of the day in the French camp this week.
While Didier Deschamps’s side garnered plaudits by sweeping past Honduras 3-0 and crushing Switzerland 5-2, a much-changed team could only draw 0-0 in their final Group E fixture against Ecuador on Wednesday.
Both Bacary Sagna and Morgan Schneiderlin suggested that France were potential champions after the stalemate at the Maracana, but centre-back Laurent Koscielny has since introduced a note of caution as Les Bleus prepare for Monday’s game in Brasilia.
It is only seven months since France had to overcome a 2-0 deficit to beat Ukraine in their qualifying play-off and the Arsenal defender says that it would be unwise to look too far ahead.
“The first objective was to get through the group phase,” said Koscielny. “Now it’s to go as far as possible.
“We are competitors and we are ambitious, but we know that we have opponents against us and that we might lose.
“We’re aware of our qualities. Something changed after the Ukraine game, but anything is possible in a knockout match and for the moment we’re only focusing on the last 16.”
Nigeria’s preparations for the game were disrupted by a dispute over bonuses but the matter was resolved following the reported intervention of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
After a laborious 0-0 draw with Iran in their opening game, Stephen Keshi’s side booked their place in the last 16 by edging Bosnia-Hercegovina 1-0 and then impressed in a 3-2 loss to Argentina.
CSKA Moscow winger Ahmed Musa twice produced immediate replies to goals from Lionel Messi, only for Argentina left-back Marcos Rojo to net a 50th-minute winner.
“We need to defend well, take our chances up front and learn from the Argentina game,” Musa told BBC Sport.
“In the second round, its winner takes all. I know with hard work and God’s support we shall make history.”
‘Disgrace of Gijon irrelevant for Algeria match’
Underdogs Algeria have the chance to settle a 32-year-old World Cup score and create a major Brazil 2014 upset by knocking out Germany in Monday’s last-16 clash.
The sides meet at Porto Alegre’s Beira-Rio Stadium, but the 1982 World Cup in Spain remains a sore point in Algeria, three decades after ‘the shame of Gijon’.
Despite beating West Germany 2-1 in their group games, Algeria was eliminated after the Germans played out a mutually beneficial 1-0 win over Austria in Gijon.
Coach Joachim Loew has played down any talk of Algerian revenge being a factor in Porto Alegre.
“Why should players who weren’t even born then want revenge? I can’t understand that,” said Loew.
But his opposite number Vahid Halilhodzic has said the team have ‘not forgotten’ and spoken at length about the 1982 factor since reaching the knock-out stages.
On another note, Germany will be without forward Lukas Podolski, who has been ruled out with a thigh injury.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2014.
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