France continue to believe as they march into last 8
The terrific midfield trio of Pogba, Cabaye and Matuidi prove Deschamps was right to drop Nasri
ROUND OF 16
(Paul Pogba 79, Joseph Yobo 90+2-og)
Few gave France much of a chance in this World Cup but, while their traditional European rivals have fallen away early, Didier Deschamps' side continue to plough onwards to the latter stages.
A tight, but deserved 2-0 win over Nigeria this morning (Singapore time) was enough for the French to book their place in the last eight.
Now, they will believe that anything is possible.
England, Italy, Portugal and Spain were all eliminated in the group stages, all with varying degrees of humiliation, but the French have been largely untroubled.
They've won three games, beating Honduras, Switzerland and Stephen Keshi's excellent African champions, and they've only been stopped once, when their mix-and-match line-up were held by Ecuador.
That was a largely meaningless game, though. Whenever it counts, the French, it seems, can be counted upon.
Much has been made of Deschamps decision to leave Samir Nasri out, a decision motivated by his desire for a settled, happy camp.
With the players so calm and apparently content, that call has certainly been vindicated but, in retrospect, it's hard to see where Nasri would have fitted into this side anyway.
Deschamps' favoured midfield three is a trio built for endurance.
Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye. Those men can run all night, they can all tackle, they can all pass and they won't let you down.
Nasri certainly wouldn't be able to usurp them.
On the left flank, Deschamps likes either Karim Benzema or Antoine Griezmann, the likeable forward from Real Sociedad who linked up so well with the Real Madrid striker when he came on this morning.
So no Nasri there either.
On the right? He might be taller than Mathieu Valbuena, but he doesn't offer more creativity.
For all the talk of a lack of character, Nasri simply wouldn't get in this side, even if ability was the benchmark.
It's hard to believe now that Deschamps was so close to humiliation and, in all probability, the sack just over six months ago.
Beaten 2-0 by Ukraine, it seemed that France had little chance of overturning the deficit in the second leg.
But an uplifting 3-0 victory in their own country didn't just secure passage to Brazil, it reinvigorated the nation.
The French public were disgusted with their team in 2010, humiliated by the internal divisions that brought about a rebellion, a strike and an ignominious exit with just a single point on the board.
Even Laurent Blanc's charge towards Euro 2012 failed to reignite the love affair between the people and the players and, when his team bowed out in the second round, few were entirely surprised. But Deschamps has made it okay for the French to like France again.
They play attacking, expressive football that's easy on the eye without sacrificing effectiveness.
They are tactically versatile, able to switch systems during a game without any noticeable upheaval.
They have great strength in depth with a squad drawn mainly from the deep of well of French talent in the EPL.
There may be better individuals in this World Cup, but in terms of balance and squad strength, there are few teams better equipped for a long tournament.
IN THE GROOVE
They showed against Switzerland what can happen if they really hit their groove, how even a team managed by the experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld can be brought to their knees.
The display against Nigeria wasn't quite in that league. Keshi's side had no intention of capitulating as swiftly as the Swiss. But it was still impressive.
To talk of victory, which is certainly what will be happening across France now, might be a little premature.
There is still a long way to go. But, whatever happens, Deschamps has allowed the French people to feel a little bit of faith in their heroes.
And it's been a long time since that was possible.
Deschamps focused on present, not the past
LATE SURGE: France coach Didier Deschamps is pleased with the last half hour when the introduction of Antoine Griezmann boosted them.
France coach Didier Deschamps is indifferent about his unbeaten World Cup record as a player and coach and is focusing only on getting his players ready for their quarter-final.
France's 2-0 win over Nigeria this morning (Singapore time) put them through to face Germany in the last eight and made it 10 unbeaten World Cup games Deschamps has been involved in.
"What I am interested in is the here and now," said the 45-year-old, who captained France to their 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs.
"We are among the last eight teams of the World Cup in Brazil.
"We have four days to rest and prepare for the game against Algeria or Germany."
Deschamps was delighted with his players against an athletic Nigeria side and the victory was sealed by a header from Man-of-the-Match Paul Pogba and an own-goal from Joseph Yobo.
Deschamps said he was particularly pleased with the last half an hour, when the introduction of forward Antoine Griezmann gave the French a bit more zip in attack.
"We had a very strong last half-an -hour with more dynamism and more speed," Deschamps said.
"We had space to create chances and we could have scored quite a few times.
"I tried to create some more speed by bringing on Griezmann and we tried to exploit the space with short passes and it worked."
The Basque-born coach defended striker Olivier Giroud, who toiled up front to little effect before making way for Griezmann in the 62nd minute.
"They are different types of players," Deschamps said. "Olivier was very useful as a support for (Karim) Benzema and there were some nice combinations up front.
"With his headers defensively and offensively, he (Giroud) was very important.
"What is most important is that the choices we made worked and we ended on a positive note.
"You have to remember that Nigeria played with four forwards but we stood up to them. Our midfielders kept the ball and that was very important."
France play their quarter-final against Germany in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
The referee is a human being and is bound to make mistakes, but a lot of mistakes is questionable... On two occasions, Onazi received very bad tackles and nothing was done about it.
— Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi (above) voicing his displeasure with American referee Mark Geiger
When (refereeing decisions) go against you, it’s easier to talk about them. But you have to accept it. Could certain things have been sanctioned firmly? It depends on which side of the fence you are at.
— France coach Didier Deschamps on Keshi’s criticism of the referee