France vs Nigeria match preview World Cup 2014: Peace and love back in vogue for Didier Deschamps and Les Bleus
Harmony has broken out in the French camp, with the fans behind them once more
Sunday 29 June 2014
Les Bleus do not deal in shades of grey at World Cups. Since failing to qualify in 1994, they have won it once, lost in the final and suffered two group stage exits ending in ignominy and farce.
Having advanced to today’s last-16 match with Nigeria here in Brasilia, history would suggest France are poised for a serious crack at a second success following victory on home soil in 1998.
They have so far appeared to erase the shambolic scenes of four years ago, when a mutinous squad led by Manchester United defender Patrice Evra refused to train following the French Football Federation’s decision to ban Nicolas Anelka for verbally abusing then coach Raymond Domenech following a group stage defeat to Mexico.
They failed to reach the knockout stages, Anelka was banned for 18 matches, with Evra suspended for five games and his reputation in France in tatters. Their serene progress through Group E this time, with Evra stationed at left-back despite his advancing years, has been a testament to coach Didier Deschamps and his galvanising powers.
France have also benefited from operating under minimal expectation. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said at the end of last season that “nobody in France expects them to win the World Cup” and, free from such pressure, they racked up eight goals in two games against Honduras and Switzerland before a goalless draw against Ecuador sealed top spot.
They arrive at the Estadio Nacional in this harmonious state to face a Nigeria team that last week staged their own training-ground boycott amid a row over win bonuses having reached the knockout stage by finishing second in Group F behind Argentina.
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The Nigerian Football Federation insists the issue is now settled but Deschamps made reference to France’s recent turmoil when dismissing what impact the upheaval could have on the Super Eagles’ performance here.
“I don’t believe that it will make a difference – it happened to other African teams before,” he said. “They are accustomed to it.
“It is true if it happens to a European team – you will remember what I am talking about – [with France] it created a serious problem. For them, I don’t think it is a very unusual situation. I’m not saying it is part of the culture but it happened before this World Cup.
“In the French team, the people talk to each other and I think it is their job to keep that momentum going and to keep that atmosphere together. We have spent a lot of time together and the days are long. We have been together 40 days since the first people arrived at Clairefontaine for the training sessions. But they are still smiling, they are happy to be here and as long as we are winning matches, I am sure everything will be fine.”
Captain Hugo Lloris believes that unity extends to the stands, with French supporters re-engaging with their team after the disillusionments of the past. The catalyst appears to have been the rousing comeback from a 2-0 first-leg deficit to Ukraine in a play-off to reach Brazil. Hugo Lloris and his team will have to combat 30C heat in Brasilia
“There have been some ups and downs but since the Ukraine match there has been enthusiasm behind the team,” Deschamps said. “In the recent matches, we have noticed a love rekindled with the team. We have done what we needed to do on the pitch to make them happy but we want to go further.”
To do so, France will have to combat the heat. The teams are expected to be greeted by temperatures approaching 30C, with kick-off scheduled for 1pm local time, and Deschamps, who has no injury worries to affect his team selection, admits conditions will hand their African opponents an advantage.
“A 1pm kick-off is a bit unusual so we have tried for the last three days to prepare just like the game will be,” he said. “Practice times have changed.
“The heat is what it is. Nigeria’s players are more accustomed to the heat than we are even though a lot of their players play in Europe with their clubs. Maybe we will manage ourselves in a different way. I’m not sure how the bodies will react. We saw in the Brazil versus Chile game, the players had serious trouble.”
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