RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — France's misfiring performance against Ecuador took some gloss off what had been a strong start from a team being touted as one of the outsiders to win the World Cup.
Although Wednesday's 0-0 draw may have worked in France's favor in terms of pressure — by tempering the rising expectation level after emphatic wins against Honduras and Switzerland — the players need to be more clinical in front of goal against Nigeria in their round-of-16 match.
"We'll simply have to put our chances away," striker Olivier Giroud said. "We were a bit hit and miss but we know what we can do."
France was much more miss than hit, failing to score from 20 shots — 13 of them on target — with Giroud himself squandering a late close-range header from a few yards out.
Coach Didier Deschamps' decision to make six changes from the side which beat Switzerland 5-2 resulted in a disjointed performance against Ecuador. But it also meant that the regulars left on the bench — notably in defense — will be well rested before facing Nigeria in what are likely to be hot and testing conditions.
"We're going to play at 1 p.m. We're going to have to adapt to the rhythm," Deschamps said, explaining that France will move forward its customary late-afternoon training sessions to lunchtime in order to be better prepared for Monday's game.
They will need to be given how Nigeria tested Argentina in Wednesday's 3-2 loss, with 21-year-old forward Ahmed Musa scoring twice.
"Nigeria is a solid, well-organized team," he said. "They defend well and they have a very good goalkeeper, quality and speed up front."
Musa's pace caused problems for Argentina's defense, but at least France now has prior warning.
Deschamps' decision to rest both his first-choice fullbacks: right back Mathieu Debuchy and left back Patrice Evra — may well prove to have been tactically astute, as they will need fresh legs to keep up with Musa and Emmanuel Emenike, who is a bustling, powerful forward.