BRASILIA, Brazil (CBSNewYork/AP) — Paul Pogba scored with a late header to finally break Nigeria’s stubborn resistance and Joseph Yobo added an own-goal as France won 2-0 to reach the World Cup quarterfinals on Monday.
Four years ago, France crashed out of the group stage, shamed a nation by going on strike and was jeered by its own fans and lambasted by politicians in the fallout from an embarrassing tournament.
“I’m proud of my players because we’re coming back from very far. I think we’ve given a lot of pleasure back to our fans,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “I think there were 5,000 here and millions back home who will feel proud.”
Pogba’s crucial goal came after Nigeria’s best spell of the match.
Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had just made a superb save to tip over Karim Benzema’s header, but he flapped at the ball from the ensuing corner and Pogba pounced in the 79th minute to nod in his first goal of the tournament.
That atoned for a scrappy first half in which he gave the ball away carelessly and placed a volley too close to Enyeama. Scoring such a crucial goal will boost his confidence heading into the last eight game on Friday at Rio’s Maracana stadium against Germany, a 2-1 winner in extra time over Algeria later Monday.
“I’m very happy and proud to be among the last eight teams left,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We have four days left to prepare for another battle.”
Yobo, who announced his international retirement after the game, turned the ball into his own net in stoppage time under pressure from France substitute Antoine Griezmann.
At the final whistle, France’s relieved players danced in front of their fans as dreams of a repeat run to the final — just like in 2006 — moved a step closer.
“We had the whole country behind us. It’s one of the proudest moments of my life,” Pogba said. “We know we’re capable of playing our best match and playing the worst, but today we were good. We stuck together and I’m very happy.”
France started slowly and finished strongly in the second round match.
“I’ve yet to see a team play well over the whole 90 minutes,” Deschamps said. “Nigeria dropped off a bit and that allowed us to get on top.”
African champion Nigeria had a goal ruled out for offside in the 19th minute after Emmanuel Emenike poked home Ahmed Musa’s cross from the left, but wasted a lot of second-half possession.
“The score doesn’t tell the game,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said.
After Griezmann came on, Benzema finally came alive in the 70th, opening up the defense after a clever one-two with the France substitute. After Enyeama blocked Benzema’s initial shot, his follow-up effort was hacked clear by Victor Moses. Video technology confirmed that the ball had not crossed the line.
Pogba’s tendency to try and hit perfect through-balls saw him give the ball away four times inside the first 10 minutes alone. He often seemed in two minds and this only slowed down the French attacks.
France failed to show the attacking flair of previous games, with Giroud skewing a shot wide early on.
He also appeared to elbow John Obi Mikel in an off-the ball incident, having done the same in last week’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador after coming on as a second-half substitute.
Keshi was highly critical of American referee Mark Geiger’s handling of the game.
“The ref is a human being, but a lot of mistakes were questionable,” he said. “Giroud elbow, Pogba foot up … he decides what happens on the field. I’m not happy with the ref.”
Two chances were missed late in the half.
Full-back Mathieu Debuchy smacked a shot wide and into the back of a steward, and Emenike saw his sharp drive from the edge of the area palmed away by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
With French nerves fraying, midfielder Blaise Matuidi was booked for a heavy challenge on Ogenyi Onazi, who was replaced by Ruben Gabriel in the 59th.
The atmosphere quietened at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, with the pockets of French fans watching silently on as Nigeria started to dominate possession. Deschamps then made a key change in the 62nd, taking Giroud off and bringing on Griezmann, freeing Benzema to play through the middle.
But Nigeria continued to push forward, and Lloris did well to block a shot from Peter Odemwingie and center half Laurent Kocielny cut out Musa’s dangerous cross from the right.
Then, it was all France as Griezmann boosted the attacks, and he almost made it 2-0 in the 85th that Enyeama tipped over brilliantly. Instead, it fell to Yobo to inadvertently add France’s second goal.
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