After coasting through Group E by outscoring opponents 8-2, France next takes on a Nigeria squad hoping to make it past the Round of 16 for the first time in history.
Monday’s matchup kicks off at the Nacional in Brasilia and the winner advances to play either Germany or Algeria in the quarterfinals.
Led by forward Karim Benzema’s three goals and two assists, the French attack looks the sharpest of any country left in the tournament, with midfielders Antoine Griezeman and Paul Pogba excelling as facilitators for Didier Deschamps’s side.
After a disappointing group stage exit four years ago, Les Bleus are eyeing their second trip to the quarterfinals since 2006’s runner-up finish in Germany.
Nigeria, one of a record two African nations to reach the knockout stage this year, received a major boost before the clash with midfielder Victor Moses returning to training earlier this week.
The Chelsea winger will likely make his second start of this World Cup due to midfielder Michael Babatunde suffering a broken arm after Ogenyi Onazi’s powerful shot struck him during the narrow 3-2 loss to Argentina, the only loss for Nigeria this Cup.
Despite never going very deep in the tournament, the Super Eagles are loaded with veterans like 100-cap defender Joseph Yobo and team leading scorer and midfielder Peter Odemwingie.
With 11 total goals in his international career, Odemwingie, 32, has scored one goal already with forward Ahmed Musa totaling two goals and forward Emmanuel Emenke notching two assists for the Nigerian attack.
As the only Nigerian defender over the age of 25, Yobo has led the backline well, but its clear a passing of the torch will take place following this Cup. The next wave of Nigeria’s team will likely be led by defenders Juwon Oshaniwa, Efe Ambrose and Kenneth Omeruo, with all three starting every match so far and allowing only three goals, all of which came at the hands of an Argentina.
That corps will have to contend with the likes of Real Madrid’s Benzema, Juventus’s Pogba and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, group that’s totaled 35 international goals. Giroud has also worked out well as the first substitute off the bench with one goal and one assist so far.
The matchup in net will be especially intriguing with France captain Hugo Lloris one of the highest rated at his position in the world following a stellar campaign with Tottenham, but Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama, 31, has far more international experience with 94 caps to Lloris’s 60, and Enyeama’s nine-save effort against Argentina was one of the best performances in goal of the tournament.
Start Time: Monday, 12 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: (bovada.lv)
Over/Under: 2.5 goals
Prediction: France over Nigeria, 3-1