For nearly 80 minutes, little separated France and Nigeria. Possession time, shots, corner kicks, fouls: almost even. Score: dead-even. A draw would be justified, though not possible in the round of 16.
Then the French broke through in an unusual match that had been both back-and-forth and scoreless. Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama, heretofore trustworthy in goal, crept out on a corner. Unable to grasp the ball in mid-flight, he could only tap it -- right to the head of Paul Progba, who filled an unguarded net to ignite France's 2-0 win at the World Cup.
Enyeama had just withstood a flurry of French threats, once with help from midfielder Vincent Moses, who cleared the ball as it hovered over the goal line. Yohan Cabaye pummeled a try off the crossbar.
At that point, the Super Eagles sagged, unable to summon enough energy and motivation to propel them into uncharted territory -- the Cup quarterfinals.
In added time, France resorted to a bit of dipsy-doo. Mathieu Valbuena nudged a corner kick only a few feet, collected a return pass and drove baseline as Nigeria looked on, befuddled. Valbuena's cross to the charging Antoine Griezmann grazed defender Joseph Yobo and plunked in the net for an own goal.
Mostly, the match was end-to-end action, with poor finishing by each side. A combined 21 corner kicks should produce more legitimate chances than what the teams could manage.
An apparent first-half goal by Nigeria was canceled by Mark Geiger, the first American ever to referee a knockout game, for offside. He got through the game without forced into a controversial call, though a tackle against Ogenyi Onazi that seemed to deal the Nigerian midfielder a serious lower leg injury easily could have brought out a red card.
Instead, Geiger flashed yellow, and France was spared the hazard of going down a man.
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