THE DAY REPLAYED – African representatives Nigeria and Algeria turned in gallant fighting performances in Monday’s two Round-of-16 matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, giving France and Germany respectively stern tests without quite being able to finish the job off.
Both the Super Eagles and Les Fennecs showed plenty of courage and skill in thwarting their supposedly superior European opponents for longer than most people expected, and were indebted to some heroics from their goalkeepers along the way.
Try as they might, however, they could not prevent the French and Germans – both former world champions – from teeing up a quarter-final meeting at the Maracana on Friday.
Nigeria’s standout performer against Les Bleus was Vincent Enyeama, who pulled off one outstanding stop after another only to flap at a corner and allow Paul Pogba to nod the French ahead 11 minutes from time.
Algeria’s hero between the posts was Rais M’Bohli, though that does not tell the whole story of a game in which Les Fennecs created the clearest chances in the first half, continued to pose a threat throughout and only succumbed after they had taken the Germans all the way to extra time.
After creating history by having two sides in the second round of the FIFA World Cup for the very first time, African football can take heart from the performances of their last two representatives on another memorable day at Brazil 2014.
France 2-0 Nigeria (Budweiser Man of the Match: Paul Pogba, FRA)
Germany 2-1 Algeria (extra time) (Budweiser Man of the Match: Rais M’Bohli, ALG)
Germany and France have proud traditions when it comes to the knockout rounds of the World Cup. In downing the Algerians, Die Mannschaft won their eighth consecutive Round-of-16 tie, a run that began back at Mexico 1986. The French have an impressive record of their own to boast: on the last five occasions that they have reached the knockout phase (Sweden 1958, Spain 1982, Mexico 1986, France 1998 and Germany 2006) Les Bleus have always made it to the semi-finals at least.
A solid foundation
While the likes of Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena are making quite a splash up front for France, their defence is also doing outstanding job, having now kept their opponents goalless in three of their four games at Brazil 2014, a record no other side in the competition is able to match.
Back-heel back story
In the build-up to the Germany-Algeria tie, much was said about Les Fennecs’ surprise 2-1 defeat of Germany FR at Spain 1982, a game in which the great Rabah Madjer scored the Africans’ opening goal. Yet when Monday’s sequel went into extra time, it threw up yet another reminder of the past, with Andre Schurrle’s opener for the Germans recalling Madjer’s famous back-heeled goal for Porto in the 1987 UEFA European Cup final against Bayern Munich. Whether Schurrle’s improvised finish was quite as intentional as Madjer’s sublime finish is a moot point, but given the link there was a certain irony about a German back-heel putting the Algerians on the road to elimination.
Another day, another extra 30 minutes
The Round of 16 has served up plenty of late excitement, with extra time having been played in three ties so far: Brazil-Chile on Saturday, Costa Rica-Greece on Sunday and Germany-Algeria on Monday. The record number of last-16 ties going to extra-time is four, at Italy 1990, a mark that could well be equalled or even bettered on Tuesday.
Home from home
At Switzerland 1954, Germany were indebted to heavy rain as they overcame Hungary in the Final, with no one faring better in the inclement conditions than their captain Fritz Walter. So good was the legendary forward in the wet that whenever the rain came down during a match it was known as “Fritz Walter weather”, and there was plenty of it about in Porto Alegre on Monday, much to the relief of the current Germany squad. Joachim Low’s side had another reason for feeling very much at home in the south of Brazil, a region that is home to the country’s largest German community. The capital of Rio Grande do Sul state laid on plenty of Teutonic refreshment and entertainment for fans making their way to the stadium, with big tankards of beer being served up and typically German music laid on. And waiting for them inside the stadium were Frida and Fritz, two appropriately named puppets who are the mascots of the annual Oktoberfest in Santa Maria, a city to the west of Porto Alegre.
Nigeria and Algeria had more in common today than just their plucky exits. Both had first-half goals disallowed for offside, with Emmanuel Emenike having an 18th-minute strike chalked off against the French and Islam Slimani suffering the same fate 17 minutes into his side’s game against the Germans.
10 - the number of FIFA World Cup matches that Didier Deschamps has now gone unbeaten as both a player and coach. A world champion at France 1998, the Bleus coach’s overall tournament record reads eight wins, two draws and not a single defeat.
Argentina-Switzerland, 1 July 2014, 13:00, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
Belgium-USA, 1 July 2014, 17:00, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
(All times local)
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