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WORLD CUP 2014:

WORLD CUP

France v Nigeria: The omens are with Les Bleus

France take on Nigeria in the last 16 of the World Cup on Monday but manager Didier Deschamps has warned his side against being distracted by the thought of a possible quarter-final against Germany. History at least, if not the weather, will be on the side of the French.

France v Nigeria: The omens are with Les Bleus
France's team train in Brasilia on the eve of their FIFA 2014 World Cup last 16 match against Nigeria. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

LATEST TEAM NEWSOlivier Giroud came into France's starting XI for Monday's World Cup last-16 match against Nigeria at Brasilia's Mane Garrincha National Stadium as coach Didier Deschamps made six changes.

The Arsenal striker got the nod over Antoine Griezmann, while Mathieu Valbuena was also drafted into the French front line after being rested for Wednesday's 0-0 draw with Ecuador.

A thigh injury to Mamadou Sakho saw Laurent Koscielny handed a start alongside Raphael Varane in central defence, while Yohan Cabaye returned from suspension in central midfield.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi made only one change to his team, with Chelsea winger Victor Moses replacing Michel Babatunde, who fractured his wrist in Wednesday's 3-2 defeat by Argentina.

Peter Odemwingie was expected to play in a central role in support of lone striker Emmanuel Emenike, with Moses and Ahmed Musa — who scored twice against Argentina — starting on the flanks.

Teams

France

Hugo Lloris (capt); Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Raphael Varane, Patrice Evra; Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi; Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud, Karim Benzema

Nigeria

Vincent Enyeama; Efe Ambrose, Joseph Yobo (capt), Kenneth Omeruo, Juwon Oshaniwa; John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi; Victor Moses, Peter Odemwingie, Ahmed Musa; Emmanuel Emenike

Coach: Stephen Keshi (NGR)

Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)

The omens are good for Les Bleus when they take on Nigeria in Brasilia, in the last 16 of the World Cup on Monday. Up for grabs is a place in the quarter-finals against Algeria or Germany.

Never before has France been knocked-out in the last 16 or quarter finals of a World Cup. Whenever they have made it out of the group they have always progressed to at least the semi-finals.

Didier Deschamps and the increasingly expectant France fans, who are falling back in love with a team who disgraced themselves by going on strike four years ago, would no doubt settle for a similar achievement at Brazil 2014.

But first his side must overcome an unpredictable Nigeria side, who on their day seem capable of causing an upset, as they showed in the final group match against Argentina, when the Super Eagles gave the South Americans a fright before going down 3-2.

Deschamps insists that he is concentrating on getting Karim Benzema, and the rest of the potent force that scored eight goals in Group E, ready to face the African champions.

Several players were rested for the Ecuador group game, when France wereheld to a 0-0 draw.

But Didier Deschamps is likely to start with the team that beat Switzerland 5-2 in the second group game, which means Olivier Giroud will partner Benzema in attack.

Mathieu Valbuena should also return but the only change from the team that faced the Swiss could see Laurent Koscielny lining up incentral defence alongside Raphael Varane, as Mamadou Sakho is doubtful due to a thigh injury.

Yohan Cabaye will return after missing the Ecuador game due to suspension,but Paul Pogba's place is under threat from Moussa Sissoko.

France were disappointing in their nil-nil draw with Ecuador, but before that they had impressed against Honduras and Switzerland in particular.

That 5-2 win against the Swiss sparked talk of France being dark horses for the World Cup, but they have yet to be tested by a real force in the competition, to warrant any talk of lifting the trophy yet.

Nigeria, who are not the Super Eagles of the 1990s when they impressed at USA 94 and France 98, are unlikely to provide the test by which France’s ambitions can really be gauged.

However there is always the danger that the French could be over-confident and take the African side too lightly.

Deschamps however insists he will not allow any complacency and any thought of who may await the French if they get through to the quarter finals has been banned.

“My only concern is Nigeria and the last 16 and to ensure the players are prepared for the battle tomorrow,” Deschamps told Le Progres on the eve of the match. “It is useless to think beyond that.”

One factor that could work against his team will be the conditions. The match is being played at 1pm local time, meaning the temperature down on the pitch is expected to hit the low 30s.

Deshcamps admits the Nigerians will have more experience of playing in such conditions.

The heat and the humidity "can have an influence over your rhythm," he said. "We need to learn how to handle certain situations."

For his part Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi insists that his side's dispute over bonuses ishistory now that their cash has been paid, and they are now concentrating on reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.

CSKA Moscow winger Ahmed Musa, who scored twice in the 3-2 defeat by Argentina, said: "We need to defend well, take our chances up front and learn from the Argentina game."

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FOOTBALL

France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

READ ALSO: France coach laments 'failure' as hosts knocked out of World Cup

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