By DAN KARELL
After absolutely rolling through their first two group stage games and easing through the third, France head into the Round of 16 with plenty of optimism but face potentially their first real tough opponent of the World Cup in Nigeria (12 p.m. ESPN).
As the disappointment of the 2010 World Cup campaign lingers, this France side has done what they can to make people focus on the present, even without the likes of winger Franck Ribery in the squad. However, it’s unavoidable to look at the past, where France has fallen to African sides at the World Cup, specifically Senegal in 2002 and South Africa in 2010.
Nigeria, along with Algeria, made history as two African nations qualified for the knockout stages of the tournament. Putting aside their money squabbles with the sporting government and their inconsistent play, Nigeria are a young side who can on a physical scale, match up man-to-man with France.
What could prove to be the difference in Brasilia though is freshness and France’s constantly shifting midfield. Head coach Didier Deschamps has played a 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 formation in the tournament and the versatility of Blaise Matuidi, Moussa Sissoko, and Mathieu Valbuena could give Nigerian midfielders fits all afternoon.
Here’s a look at the rest of today’s World Cup slate:
GERMANY vs. ALGERIA
Thirty-two years ago, West Germany robbed Algeria of a place in the knockout round after colluding with Austria to ensure both European sides went through.
Fast-forward to today, and Algeria nor their fans have forgotten, and revenge and history is clearly on the mind for the African nation when they take on Germany at the Estádio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre (4 p.m. ESPN). Algeria’s thrilling 4-2 victory over South Korea and 1-1 draw with Russia was enough for them to advance for the first time in history. Forward Islam Slimani has been a hero for the Desert Foxes and their hard-working midfielders Nabil Bentaleb and Sofiane Feghouli have impressed all tournament long.
Germany dealt with the Group of Death in strong, though not spectacular fashion. While their opening 4-0 victory against Portugal was emphatic, they’ve hardly looked at their best, though rough weather and high temperatures could be to blame. Thomas Müller has been a star, and even when he’s being marked, he’s found a way in all three games to score at least one goal.
Coach Joachim Löw was able to rest Mario Götze and Sami Khedira against the USA and with those two expected back in the lineup, Germany can attack the Algerian defense from all angles. Where Algeria can stun Germany is on quick counter-attacks, if they can fly down the wings and get enough bodies forward.
What do you think of today’s World Cup slate? Do you see France advancing? Think that Nigeria can give Les Blues a game? Do you expect Germany to move on past Algeria?
Share your thoughts below.