Joseph Akpala Goal Sees Nigeria Shock France

Les Bleus' unsteady international form continued on Tuesday evening as they produced an insipid performance en route to a defeat by an impressive Nigerian outfit.

The first ever meeting between France and Nigeria on the international scene was settled by a single first half goal from Joseph Akpala, who tapped in from close range to give Nigeria a memorable victory in Saint-Etienne. Les Bleus had started the match with great promise but their guests quickly showed their class on the break and defended stoutly during the second period to record a fine 1-0 success.

Neither side fielded their strongest XI but France’s start to the match was very upbeat indeed and twice in the opening five minutes they could have taken the lead. Nigeria’s defense, which would go on to enjoy a relatively solid game, looked exceptionally nervous in the opening moments, allowing Karim Benzema to lob over before debutant Loic Remy smacked a shot at Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

The match was very entertaining, with chances coming at both ends as Nigeria steadied themselves after an uncertain start. Home goalkeeper Steve Mandanda made a mess of coming out to collect a through ball, allowing the impressive Ikechukwu Uche to lob the goalkeeper. Only a desperate header on the line by Sebastien Squillaci, which saw the ball hit the bar, saved les Bleus.

While Uche appealed for a goal, France charged to the other end of the park and had a Benzema shot blocked by a Nigerian defender.

But Nigeria’s counterattacking style was enjoying the upper hand at this stage, with Ikechukwu Uche and Peter Odemwingie outstanding. Indeed, the Lokomotiv Moscow man’s ambitious 40-yard lob only served to display his confidence, and the effort was not far away.

France still posed a threat, mainly channeled through Franck Ribery and Nicolas Anelka, who would be withdrawn at half-time. The pair took it in turns to play each other in around the 30 minute mark but on both occasions the impressive Enyeama made excellent blocks.

These proved particularly crucial as Nigeria snatched the lead a matter of three minutes later. Ikechukwu Uche would be the catalyst with a strong burst down the right flank, cutting inside Patrice Evra before clattering a shot off the post via the fingertips of Mandanda. The ball bounced back off the DR Congo-born goalkeeper’s back, onto the post once again, and kindly up for Joseph Akpala, who finished easily.

Les Bleus would be kept at an arm’s length for much of the remainder of the match by the excellent Super Eagles defence. Nigeria would also have the better of the late chances in the half, Odemwingie forcing a save from Mandanda before another Uche effort flashed just wide.

France were jeered off at half-time by a restless crowd and matters would only grow bleaker for the hosts after the interval. Andre-Pierre Gignac was brought on as a replacement at half-time and was the most dangerous Frenchman on the field after the break.

A strong cross picked out Ribery, but he uncharacteristically squandered a simple chance from close range. Dele Adeleye then made a heroic block from the Toulouse star, who would be a persistent menace down the right.

Nigeria were not so adventurous on the counterattack but still had the chance to put the game out of France’s reach when Akapala squandered a simple chance from yet another strong break down the right.

France’s best chance would come two minutes from time, Remy crashing a shot against the outside of the post, leaving les Bleus having drawn a blank against opponents they were expected to see off.

The home crowd, who cheered every visiting break forward and frequently booed their own side’s efforts, let their feelings known as a chorus of boos rang out as the French trudged off despondent while the Nigerians huddled together in the center of the park before celebrating a fine success.

Robin Bairner,