June 26, 2011

France 1, Nigeria 0

France started their 2011 World Cup with a tough victory over Nigeria by a 1-0 score. Marie-Laure Delie's goal in the 56th minute gave three points to the French team, who will now face Canada in an all important Group A contest on Thursday.

France dominated the opening minutes of the game, controlling possession and forcing several corner kicks. Louisa Necib's inswinging corner in the 4th minute nearly snuck inside the near post, but it was headed away by a Nigerian defender.

In the 17th minute, Elise Bussaglia tested Nigerian keeper Precious Dede from distance, but she was up to the task pushing the shot wide with a diving save. Just a few minutes later, another Necib corner came loose in front of the net. Wendie Renard got to the ball first and shot, but the ball was deflected by Osinachi Ohale over the crossbar.

It almost seemed like the field was tilted toward Necib's side throughout the first half and she was very active for most of the match, creating chances and always menacing the Nigerian defense.

After they weathered the initial storm, the Nigerians slowly came into their own as the half progressed. And in the 25th minute, they had the best scoring opportunity of the first half. The Nigerians were able to gain control of the ball deep in their own end and start a counterattack.

Glory Iroka sent a long through ball forward with Desire Oparanozie timing her run perfectly for a clear cut breakaway. She approached from the right side of the box, with French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz coming out to cut off the angle. But Oparanozie got little on her shot and it rolled just wide of the far post. Oparanozie would be a thorn in the French defense for the first two thirds of the match as she was always threatening.

One of Nigeria's top players, Faith Ikidi, came off for Josephine Chukwunonye in the 39th minute and appeared to be laboring with some sort of injury. Nigerian players appeared to have trouble with the heat throughout the match, with several players cramping up.

Another attempt from distance was made by Necib just before intermission, but her shot from 30 yards was pushed wide by Dede.

Nigeria came close in the 51st minute as a long cross found Ebere Orji behind the French defense, but she was unable to make contact from inside the penalty area and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.

France finally broke through in 56th minute. After a good buildup, Eugenie Le Sommer had possession on the right wing and she sent a cross into the penalty area. A flick by Necib changed the direction of the cross slightly and the ball came to Delie, who was perfectly centered on the net and just 10 yards out. She made no mistake of her finish into the left side of the net past Dede to put the French on top.

Delie nearly made it 2-0 in the 64th minute, but her shot off of a Elodie Thomis cross went safely into the arms of Dede.

Nigeria's best scoring chance of the second half came in the 66th minute. Oparanozie once again threatened up the right side and Nigeria was able to eventually work the ball into the penalty area. Orji's shot from 15 yards sailed high and wide to the right. Nigeria was never able to get another good opportunity after that. At that point, tired legs seem to take over and limited any serious attacking.

France was largely able to neutralize Nigeria's two veteran players, Perpetua Nkwocha and Stella Mbachu. Nigeria was most dangerous on the counterattack, but less effective when it came to a possession game.

The French outshot Nigeria by a 15-7 margin and had the better of possesion, mostly on the weight of the opening 20 minutes. Both teams will return to action on Thursday. France meets Canada in a match that could decide who team number two out of Group A will be. Nigeria's task gets no easier as they face the host Germans on Thursday.