Football

Deschamps tempers France's expectations

France coach Deschamps eager to temper expectations in buoyant Les Bleus camp

ROUND OF 16

FRANCE v NIGERIA

(Tonight, 11.59pm, SingTel mio TV Ch 141 & StarHub TV Ch 223)

France coach Didier Deschamps said this morning (Singapore time) he spoke to players in the squad who have put Les Bleus among the favourites to win the World Cup.

The coach is anxious to play down expectations, insisting that he is concentrating only on tonight's last-16 game against Nigeria.

Bacary Sagna and Morgan Schneiderlin have said that France should win the tournament, but Deschamps is keen to play down expectations.

"I have not had to manage anything. I have, perhaps, had exchanges with the players concerned," Deschamps said.

"To be ambitious is very good, but to look any further than Nigeria does no one any good."

France impressed with 3-0 and 5-2 wins over Honduras and Switzerland respectively in Group E. But they were also held 0-0 by Ecuador.

Sagna and Schneiderlin went further than other members of the squad with their comments on France's chances.

"We aspire to win trophies. For me, it will be a failure if we do not win the World Cup," said Manchester City defender Sagna.

Southampton midfielder Schneiderlin, who is linked to a move to Arsenal, told Le Parisien newspaper: "To be honest, the main objective of the players is to win the World Cup."

Like Deschamps, midfield star Yohan Cabaye has called his teammates not to "get ahead of ourselves".

"The fact that we showed our quality in the group stage obviously should make us more confident, but not arrogant, otherwise we are going to have major problems," he said.

Deschamps said France can no longer afford to make any mistakes as the tournament goes into the knockout rounds.

SANCTION

"It's not like in the group stages where you can catch up. The sanction comes at the end of the game," declared the coach.

"We prepare them just as seriously, but at the end you stay or you don't stay."

Deschamps said that Nigeria have a "powerful and fast" attack and "solid" defence, but gave nothing away about France's tactics for tonight's match.

The heat of Fortaleza, where the match will start at 1pm (Brazil time), will hit both sides as many of the Nigerians play in Europe, the French boss said.

"I don't know how the (players) will react during the match."

Meanwhile, captain Hugo Lloris said France's recent form and impressive run at the World Cup Finals has led to an improved relationship with the fans of Les Bleus.

France finished second to Spain in their European qualifying group, and were on the brink of elimination against Ukraine in the play-offs before a 3-0 victory in the second leg in Paris secured their place in Brazil on a 3-2 aggregate.

Lloris said that win at the Stade de France was a turning point, and victories over Norway and Holland in warm-up games helped banish the memories of years of underachievement, infighting and ill-discipline, following their sole World Cup win in 1998.

"There have been some ups and downs in the past few years, that's true," said Lloris this morning.

"But, since the return leg against Ukraine, we have noticed a change, a rekindled fondness from the fans.

"We have done what we needed, and made the effort on the pitch to make the fans happy so far, but we want to go further."

ATTACKING POTENTIAL

France demonstrated their attacking potential in the 5-2 drubbing of Switzerland, and will be confident they can get past a Nigeria side who squeezed through behind Argentina in Group F, which also featured Bosnia and Iran.

The winners of tonight's game will meet European heavyweights Germany or surprise package Algeria in the quarter-finals.

Lloris said that France's form in the group stage would count for nothing if they fail to perform in their first outing in the knockout rounds, and he expected a very tight game against the African champions that would likely be decided by "details".

"Before the competition, we were never labelled as one of the favourites," Lloris said.

"It's true we had some good matches in the group phase but it's like a new tournament now.

"You'll need a lot of energy and a lot of concentration at this stage if you want to get through.

"We will need to be focused, and this kind of match will be decided on details, so we will need to be vigilant right until the end." - Reuters.


To be ambitious is very good, but to look any further than Nigeria does no one any good.

— France coach Didier Deschamps

Super Eagles in the mood

CONFIDENT: Nigeria believe they can overcome powerful France. PHOTO: REUTERS

Joseph Yobo is confident Nigeria can cause an upset in their World Cup last-16 clash against France tonight (Singapore time) and qualify for the last eight.

The Africans endured a slow start to the competition, drawing 0-0 with Iran, but victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina set them up for qualification, despite losing to Argentina.

Defender Yobo saw enough in the group phase to convince him that Nigeria can overcome a powerful France in Brasilia.

"I'm proud of our team," the captain said. "I've played in this side for many years, so I've been able to see it evolve.

"We won the Africa Cup of Nations, booked our place in the World Cup without any trouble, and now we've qualified for the second round.

"It's not often that I've experienced so many pieces of good news in a row.

"That shows you we're improving. This team are young, but we are growing fast and learning quickly. We're taking confidence from our campaign so that it can help us in our next match.

"I don't see what we should be afraid of. I believe in this team, and I think we can do it."

With the row over bonus payments with the Nigerian FA settled, there was further good news for the Super Eagles when Victor Moses returned to training on Saturday.

Moses, 23, had been the main injury concern but, the Chelsea winger gave coach Stephen Keshi a boost with his presence.

Only midfielder Michael Babatunde, who fractured his wrist during the group stage, was not present.

Although Nigeria go into the game against France as underdogs, Keshi has instructed to only think about a win.

"Our mentality must be strong," Keshi said. "Our approach to every match has always been the same: To win.

NON-NEGOTIABLE

"Whether we are playing against Spain at the Confederations Cup, or playing against Liberia in a friendly match, I always tell the boys that victory is non-negotiable."

With Algeria also in the last 16, this is the first time that two African countries have advanced to the knockout stages at a World Cup.

But Keshi refused to look past the game against France, even though a win over the 1998 world champions will pit them against either Germany or Algeria in the quarter-finals.

"We don't even want to think of who might be lurking in the quarter-finals if we win, we are not bothered," Keshi said. "All we know is that we must win on Monday." - Wire Services.

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