Though both teams’ overriding objective is clearly earning a place in the last four of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, quarter-final opponents France and Nigeria have other compelling reasons for wanting to progress further. The European side have never previously reached the semi-final at this event, while the Africans have the opportunity to extend their flawless record so far.
Though France have now won all three of their Round of 16 ties in FIFA U-20 World Cup history, they have never won a quarter-final encounter. On the two occasions they previously reached the last eight, in 1997 and 2001, Les Bleuets were downed by the South American duo of Uruguay and Argentina, respectively.
Despite having yet to find their most flowing football, Francis Smerecki’s charges have shown plenty of character to bounce back from their opening 4-1 mauling by Colombia and rack up three wins in a row. Key to this revival has been the players’ fitness levels, underlined by the fact that five of France’s seven goals have come in the last 20 minutes – including Antoine Griezmann’s winner against Ecuador in the last 16.
Nigeria, for their part, have made history by winning four consecutive games at the finals of a FIFA U-20 World Cup, a first for the west African nation. The only side, alongside hosts Colombia, with a 100 per cent record thus far, the Flying Eagles also have a positive pedigree at this stage of the global U-20 showpiece, having beaten Mexico in 1985, the former Soviet Union in 1989 and the Netherlands in 2005. On the other two occasions they reached the last eight, they lost to Mali and Chile in 1999 and 2007 respectively.
At Colombia 2011 it has been the Nigerians’ attacking play that has really caught the eye, and which arguably makes them slight favourites in Cali. Scorers of 13 goals to this point, deadly trio of Ahmed Musa, Olarenwaju Kayode and Edafe Egbedi have all struck three times to jointly hold second spot in the tournament’s scorers’ charts.
21 – Edafe Egbedi is one of just 21 players to have scored at the finals of both the FIFA U-17 World Cup and its U-20 equivalent, a select band which includes the likes of Ronaldinho, Seydou Keita and Freddy Adu. At Nigeria 2009, the youngster fired three goals in the hosts’ run to the final, the same tally that he has notched so far here in Colombia.
“We controlled the game well against Ecuador, even though they did get a few chances. We’re happy with the way we’ve got back on track in the competition. We don’t know much about Nigeria, but they’re an African side so will be physically very strong. We’re going to need to keep possession better,” France captain Gueida Fofana.
“I’m pleased with my football, but I can still play even better. I didn’t score against England, though I was involved in our winner. I’m going to have another great game against France in the quarter-finals: I know I’m capable of scoring against anyone,” Nigeria striker Olarenwaju Kayode.