PARIS (Reuters) – - Hosts France benefited from two highly debatable goals in their last two Group A games as they reached the World Cup knockout phase with a perfect record that did not mask their shortcomings.
Les Bleues missed two penalties that were ordered to be retaken and were then converted in their 2-1 win against Norway and 1-0 victory over Nigeria because the goalkeepers had stepped off their line before the spot kicks were taken.
It was a strict application of the rules but rarely have penalties been ordered to be taken again for that reason.
A change in the laws from June 1 mean the keeper is only required to have one foot on the line at a penalty but this has increased the scrutiny from referees who can also use VAR.
“If I give you my opinion, I will have problems and they will send me home,” said Nigeria coach Thomas Dennerby.
The result left Nigeria in third place on three points, hoping to progress as one of the best third-placed teams.
France will face a third-placed team in the last 16 on Sunday with a potential quarter-final clash against the United States at stake.
But their campaign might end there if they do not improve dramatically, having shown a worrying lack of intensity against Norway and Nigeria.
Midfielder Charlotte Bilbault was defensive about France’s under-par performances.
“You’re always going to find something wrong,” she said.
“You can say what you want. We do know we have that strength. We’re setting our sights on our last-16 game.”
Delphine Cascarino, however, admitted that France were “struggling in the box”.
Nigeria keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie said: “I thought France would be better. Last time around they beat us 8-0 so I was expecting something else”.
France’s Gaetane Thiney, who struggled to move the ball fast enough in midfield, confirmed that Les Bleues had had difficulties at the Roazhon Park stadium in Rennes.
“Nigeria were playing for their lives but we were too slow in the first half,” she said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)