FRANCE’S match-winner Paul Pogba hailed his winning goal as one of the best moments of his life as Les Bleus swept into the World Cup quarter-finals after beating Nigeria 2-0 in Brasilia.
Scorers: France - Paul Pogba (79) Joseph Yobo (90+2, og)
Pogba’s header came in the 79th minute and Joseph Yobo’s own goal put the gloss on it for Didier Deschamps side.
Pogba said: “I have no words to describe this feeling. The whole country is behind us and scoring that goal really liberated us. I am so happy for the team and all of France.
“To score a goal for your country, especially in such an important game as this, to get into the last eight of the World Cup is one of the best moments of my life.”
Les Bleus had been kept at bay by the African side for much of the match, and given a few scares of their own, before a spell of intense pressure led to Pogba’s winner, with Yobo’s late own goal only compounding Nigeria’s misery.
For long periods, Nigeria’s keeper Vincent Enyeama – who plays his club football in France for Lille – had defied the French but it was his unfortunate blunder that allowed Pogba, the former Manchester United youth player who has made his name at Juventus, the chance.
Until then, Enyeama had been heroic – not least with a brilliant reaction save after Mathieu Valbuena had set Pogba for a powerfully-struck volley.
With Enyeama in such form, Didier Deschamps’ France side could not afford to be wasteful and Valbuena’s promptings in midfield looked the best avenue for attack.
It was the Marseille midfielder who conjured a neat lay-off into Mathieu Debuchy’s path only for the Newcastle full-back to send his drive wide when a goal looked odds-on.
Valbuena’s fast feet then saw France open up the Nigerians again but Giroud’s shot on the turn was disappointing.
It was one-way traffic however, and Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny had to be smart to block out Peter Odemwingie when the Stoke striker threatened.
Blaise Matuidi then crunched Odemwingie and from a promising position Emmanuel Emenike blasted the free-kick high and wide. Nigeria’s Fenerbahce striker then did get the ball in the net with a great finish but was flagged for offside.
Emenike’s power posed a threat to the French and he stung the hands of Hugo Lloris with a fizzing shot from 25 yards.
As the game entered the final phase, France began to exert control, perhaps aided by Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi departing on a stretcher after a nasty later challenge by Matuidi, who was booked.
It had been a fairly miserable game for Giroud, who had not clicked at all with Karim Benzema, and he came off just after an hour for Antoine Griezmann.
The change had an immediate impact.
Benzema’s one-two with Griezmann on the edge of the box came off perfectly but Enyeama managed to take the pace out of the Real Madrid striker’s shot and Victor Moses hooked it clear off the line.
France continued to press and Benzema’s cross-shot was scooped clear before Yohan Cabaye came as close as anyone had to scoring when his 20-yard strike crashed back off the crossbar.
Finally, France made the breakthrough and it was hugely unfortunate for Enyeama that having been so heroic, it was his flap at Valbuena’s corner that saw the ball drop nicely for Pogba to direct a header into the unguarded net.
Enyeama made up for it with another fabulous stop to keep out Griezmann’s fiercely-struck effort but France were not to be denied and Griezmann’s step-over from Valbuena’s cross saw the ball hit the unfortunate Yobo on the shin – who had broken Nigeria’s World Cup appearance record – and roll into the net.
Deschamps said he was “very proud” of his side but admitted that France had suffered from the tension.
He said: “We’re in the quarter finals now and we will do everything we can to go one step further.”
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said he did not know what would happen about his future, and criticised USA referee Mark Geiger.
Keshi said: “I thought the referee made a lot of mistakes and was very lenient to the French players.
“There was a very bad tackle on Ogenyi Onazi and he is probably out for weeks.”
France: Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny, Evra, Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi, Valbuena (Sissoko 90), Giroud (Griezmann 62), Benzema. Subs Not Used: Ruffier, Landreau, Sakho, Cabella, Mavuba, Mangala, Sagna, Digne, Remy, Schneiderlin.
Nigeria: Enyeama, Ambrose, Yobo, Oshaniwa, Omeruo, Musa, Onazi (Gabriel 59), Mikel, Moses (Nwofor 89), Odemwingie, Emenike. Subs Not Used: Ejide, Agbim, Uzoenyi, Egwuekwe, Odunlami,Oboabona,
Azeez, Uchebo, Ameobi.