Nigeria and Algeria made World Cup history for Africa and now leave with their heads held high.
Despite tenacious resistance, Africa’s last representatives were sent home on Monday by France and Germany.
Those two former champions will next play each other on Friday in Rio de Janeiro. That quarterfinal means Europe is guaranteed at least one semifinalist in this World Cup that has smiled on the Americas, supplier of eight of the last 16 teams.
With exceptional saves, goalkeepers again starred both in France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria and Germany’s 2-1 marathon against an Algerian team whose bravura has been among the many revelations of this surprise-packed tournament.
This was Algeria’s first taste of World Cup knockout football, having never advanced from the group stages in three previous attempts.
Germany needed extra time to win after both teams failed to score in two absorbing halves, and it let Abdelmoumene Djabou get a goal back in the dying seconds, doing little for the three-time champion’s credentials as a favorite to lift the trophy again on July 13.
France, winner in 1998, looks the sharper of the two. Germany’s tactics of pushing players forward and leaving a large chunk of defending to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer would almost certainly undo it against a stronger attack.
Other highlights of another dramatic day at one of the best World Cups in memory included:
-France’s Paul Pogba scored the 146th goal, pushing the tally from this tournament beyond that of South Africa in 2010, with 10 matches still to play.
–The goal total climbed to 150 by the end of Monday’s two games, after an own-goal from Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo that sealed France’s win, extra time strikes for Germany from Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil, and Djabou’s consolation goal. If the current average of more than 2 goals per game holds through to the final, Brazil could finish with the highest goals total of any of the 20 World Cups. The total to beat is 171, scored at France 1998.
-Luis Suarez confessed. Having previously denied that he bit Giorgio Chiellini, the disgraced Uruguay striker reversed course, apologized to the Italy defender and to “the entire football family” via Twitter and vowed that his third ban for biting would be his last.
Chiellini quickly tweeted back: “It’s all forgotten. I hope FIFA will reduce your suspension.”
Suarez is serving a four-month ban for what FIFA’s disciplinary panel ruled was a “deliberate, intentional” and unprovoked bite in Uruguay’s 1-0 group stages win against Italy. Without Suarez, Uruguay promptly lost 2-0 to Colombia in the last 16.
-Facebook said it passed the 1 billion mark in World Cup interactions. No other single event has generated this much activity in Facebook history.
Before Brazil, Africa never had two teams make the knockout stage at the same tournament. Like Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010), the Nigerians were hoping to reach their first quarterfinals after twice stalling at the last 16.
And with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama flying like Superman, it seemed for a long while that the Nigerians might do it.
The Super Eagles sank claws into France in the first half, with tough physicality viewed leniently by U.S. referee Mark Geiger. In Paris, an ocean of fans watched on a giant outdoor screen at Paris City Hall. Encouragement even came from the famed Orsay museum, which is tweeting photos of blue-themed artworks to encourage Les Bleus. After Edgar Degas’ “The Blue Dancers” on Sunday, Monday’s choice was Lucien Levy-Dhurmer’s “The Inlet.”
France had the best first-half chances and squandered them. Pogba fired a right-footed, taekwondo kick-like volley straight at Enyeama. Brazilian TV’s speed trap clocked the ball at 87 kilometers (54 miles) per hour off the midfielder’s foot.
After Enyeama got a hand to Karim Benzema’s second-half header, tipping it over his crossbar, the French striker kicked one of the posts in frustration.
In South Africa, goalkeepers complained of strange swerves from the ball and there were epic mistakes from Brazil’s Julio Cesar and England’s Robert Green.
But Brazil is becoming a gallery for their art.
Against Germany, Algeria’s Rais Mbolhi somehow got fingertips to a pile-driver off the right foot of German captain Philipp Lahm and stopped a point-blank header from Thomas Mueller.
At the other end, Neuer dug himself out of a goal-mouth scramble and then hoofed an extraordinarily accurate kick up-field to Schuerrle, who couldn’t capitalize on the chance, failing to wriggle free of an Algerian marker. Neuer also showed great athleticism and anticipation haring out of his box against Algerian attacks.
The acrobatics prompted a tweet of admiration from Gary Lineker, top scorer at the 1986 tournament for England: “The quality of goalkeeping at this World Cup has been extraordinarily high.”
Enyeama will rue his mistake that led to the French breakthrough. He flapped at Mathieu Valbuena’s corner. The ball flew kindly to Pogba, who stepped away from Yobo, his marker, to coolly head it in.
When the ball bounced off Yobo’s leg to make it 2-0 for France, Paris crowds erupted with waving flags, raised fists and lusty renditions of the anthem, “La Marseillaise.” With each additional victory, the team is winning forgiveness for the disgraceful strike by players at the last World Cup.
“This team is a pleasure to watch,” French President Francois Hollande purred on Twitter.
Germany, less so. But if it finally hits top gear next Friday, their quarterfinal could be a classic.
( Courtesy The Associated Press & FIFA …….. NEW AFRICA BUSINESS NEWS)