In the second round World Cup tie between France and Nigeria, everything was a little closer than it had to be for France and Didier Deschamps. Nigeria are a difficult team to play against with their athleticism and pace, but France didn’t help themselves thanks to the team setup of Deschamps.
As shown in the game against Iran, Nigeria are relatively toothless in the center if the pitch. Their threat predominantly comes from the wide areas with Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Peter Odemwingie as they interchange. If you cover the two flanks and force Nigeria to come central then their attacking threat is minimal.
France, however, decided to play a 4-3-3 with Olvier Giroud playing centrally as the main striker and Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena playing as the two wide players either side of him. Firstly, Benzema is not as effective or productive from the left wing, and secondly, he hurts the team defensively.
Now some teams may not take advantage of that, but when you know what the Nigeria team brings to the table, you should know that they are a team that probably will take advantage. Nigeria enjoyed a lot of joy down both flanks, but particularly their right side with Efe Ambrose overlapping from right-back.
Benzema should, in theory, be tracking Ambrose, but he rarely did and Nigeria got a lot of joy out of that area of the pitch. It meant Blaise Matuidi had to vacate his central midfield position a lot of the time to help out Patrice Evra, which then opened up space in midfield for the Super Eagles. Nigeria played a good game overall and were a genuine threat to France, who were unbalanced from the very start.
In the second half, Antoine Griezmann entered the game, with Giroud departing, which definitely helped to balance the team out. It allowed Benzema to then return to the central striker role, and France were more of a consistent threat from that point on. Griezmann is more accustomed to the wide role and what it entails, and he and Valbuena playing wide of a central Benzema should be the way forward for Les Bleus.
Deschamps got the tactics wrong with his starting lineup, but the talent of his team still saw them through in the end. With a probable quarterfinal against Germany to come next, Deschamps will need to get the team shape correct from now on, because the individual talent of France will only take them so far.