Keshi and Yobo go as Super Eagles fall to France in last 16
France, 8/1 shots with Coral to win the World Cup, have a quarter-final against Germany to look forward to, after bringing the curtain down on Stephen Keshi’s reign as Nigeria boss and the international career of ex-Everton defender Joseph Yobo.
The African champions held their own for long periods against Les Bleus, who are seemingly continuing a pattern of a bad World Cup followed by a good one, but saw late mistakes ruthlessly punished. Keshi has resigned in the wake of this defeat.
Super Eagles stopper Vincent Enyeama made more group stage saves that any other keeper, but badly misjudged Mathieu Valbuena’s corner leaving Paul Pogba free to head home. Diminutive Marseille midfielder Valbuena was also the architect of Yobo’s stoppage time own goal, which sealed a French victory.
Eyebrows were raised when Premier League title winners Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy were omitted by Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps from the World Cup roster. Surprise remained after the former was not called up following Franck Ribery’s injury.
With each passing result, however, that simple defence put forward by Deschamps of his selections makes more and more sense. There may not be an out and out superstar in France’s ranks, but there is a clear confidence mounting among a happy camp, and that is a far cry from four years ago in South Africa.
Detractors will seize upon a potential defeat to Germany, who are odds-on 8/13 favourites to advance to the semi-finals and 13/10 to do so in 90 minutes, and say Les Bleus fell at the first hurdle they were truly tested. Ribery’s absence will be most keenly felt here, because so many of this Die Mannschaft squad have played with him at Bayern Munich.
Nigeria, meanwhile, look to have reached a watershed; Keshi had stepped aside, ageing centre back Yobo has retired after racking up a century of caps, and expect a couple of others to follow.
Peter Odemwingie and Shola Ameobi, both 32, have had their moments in the Brazilian sun, the latter being a particularly touching Cinderella story after his exit from Newcastle, but should now step aside to let younger names come through.
It would be easy to see the Super Eagles’ World Cup on South American soil as one tainted by this almost perennial problem of bonuses for African nations at major tournaments. Unlike Ghana and Cameroon, however, Keshi and his charges made it out of their group.
Emerging from the Brazil finals are players plying their trade in Europe, which pundits had heard good things about, but seldom seen up close what they could do. Lazio’s Ogenyi Onazi is a typical example. This most combative of midfield players was stretchered off no less than three times at this tournament, and twice in the France tie.
Onazi clearly loves the physical side of the game, something we see so many players shying away from nowadays. He had an influence in the middle of the park, as well as durability, and that would make him an ideal fit for Premier League football.
These attributes would be most welcome at Everton, especially if Gareth Barry does not make a permanent switch to Goodison Park, or fellow Europa League participants Hull City. Humberside or Merseyside probably don’t appeal as much as Rome mind, but Onazi would also be a great for Aston Villa. Paul Lambert could do with an enforcer to join Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood.
Speaking of flat midfield trios, who would’ve thought in the modern game France could use that tactic so successfully? There is so much drive in Deschamps’ engine room through Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, who inflicted the final blow on Onazi that meant he had to go off, plus the playmaking capabilities of Yohan Cabaye.
It will all certainly give Joachim Low’s three of Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger something to think about. Sami Khedira could return to the German XI, not least because their problems at full back may see skipper Lahm revert to his old position.
Les Bleus wingers Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann up against Benedikt Howedes and Jerome Boateng, if Mats Hummels shakes off a cold, will be another absorbing tactical battle to watch out for in the quarter-finals. Exploiting these centre backs by trade will be key if France, 23/10 to win in 90 minutes, are to advance.
On a final Nigerian note, don’t forget Ahmed Musa. The CSKA Moscow star’s delightful double against Argentina will be written into national football folklore. If Brendan Rodgers’ recent boast about a “flood of signings” is true, Musa could be racing up Anfield Road before the summer is out.