With the second round now well under way, Sunday contains two scintillating prospects with the third pair of last -16 fixtures and with Africa at the forefront of today’s World Cup action, Rhys Stevens previews the fixtures.
Group E winners France face one of only two African sides left in the tournament Nigeria. The question will be for many fans is which France will turn up? With Paul Pogba, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and the exciting prospect in young Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann, the French have an abundance of talent to easily secure a quarter-final place. However, as ever, the French have a tendency for disaster, and for the spirit and confidence of the side to dissipate when it matters. French meltdowns have previously been evident with the disastrous tournament in 2010 in South Africa and Euro 2012.
After doing what has been expected of them so far , the 1998 winners remaining unbeaten in the relatively unchallenging Group E after a draw against Ecuador and two emphatic wins over Switzerland and Honduras, they come into this Nigeria match-up in good form. Scoring also has not been a problem for Le Bleus, after scoring eight goals in the first two group matches. The French will miss Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra for this match due to suspension
Nigeria came through Group F in a more sedate and delicate fashion with a goalless stalemate with Iran and edging debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0. However, Nigeria and their danger man CSKA Moscow’s Ahmed Musa showed glimmers of brilliance in an accomplished performance in a 3-2 defeat to Argentina. If Ahmed Musa can recreate his performance against another World Cup heavyweight, by no means will Nigeria be a simple, painless pushover for the French. Nigeria will be without Juwon Oshaniwa, Kenneth Omeruo and Chelsea’s Jon Obi Mikel however, adding to the enormity of the challenge lying before them.
The later game today will be another African hope; Algeria facing the daunting task of overcoming European big boys Germany. The Germans have really shown their pedigree and their young side’s developing maturity, comfortably topping Group G with seven points and entering the last-16 with a rampant Thomas Muller who’s scored four goals in the tournament. It seems the squad depth may cause selection headaches for Joachim Low with the decision of whether to persevere with Philippe Lahm in a midfield role or recall Bastian Schweinsteiger. Jerome Boateng is hoping to shake off a knee complaint and Lukas Podolski will not feature at all with a muscular problem.
The underdogs Algeria will have revenge on their minds, after the ‘Shame of Gijon’ back in 1982, where West Germany and Austria manufactured a result to send the valiant Desert Foxes home after they defeated the German 2-1 in the previous match. Algeria progressed from a tricky group Group H and the injections of French-born talent into the Algerians has paid dividends and have looked a far stronger outfit since 2010. The impressive demolition of South Korea in the group stage and the performances of main man Feghouli will mean the Germans cannot take the North African side lightly. However, you would expect the Germans, with their immense squad depth and lethal firepower, to have more than enough to overcome the Algerians. Algeria is currently without any major fitness doubts, and should be able to field their strongest side against the heavy favourite three-time World Cup winners.
With progression an unlikely prospect for the underdogs, up against two of the giants of world football, performance and the quality of play will be all-important for Nigeria and Algeria respectively.