John Obi Mikel
There can be no position in sport where the dichotomy between hero and villain is defined more cruelly or narrowly than that of goalkeeper.
For 78 minutes, Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama had been inspired in standing up to everything that France could throw at him. But then, just seconds after making a fingertip save to deny Karim Benzema, he rushed at a cross and gifted Paul Pogba what proved to be the decisive goal. A mix-up in added time with Joseph Yobo subsequently gave far more comfort to the scoreline than the French players had felt at any point of the match.
Nigeria had dominated for significant periods and, with Emmanuel Emenike's first-half 'goal' ruled out by the most marginal of offside decisions, they could have easily been the team preparing for a quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro on Friday.
Nigeria were also riled by a series of refereeing decisions, with Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi both surviving moments of indiscipline.
France, though, certainly did finish the match with a flourish and, given their dramatic improvement after Giroud was replaced by Antoine Griezmann in the 62nd minute, it is hard to imagine Didier Deschamps, the manager, keeping faith with the Arsenal striker in the quarter-finals.
"A game lasts 90 minutes and we finished very well," Deschamps said. "We had a very strong last half an hour with more dynamism and speed. When you look at the recent past of the French national team, I am very proud to be in the last eight of this World Cup. We came very far. Whatever happens now it's not failure."
Of Giroud's specific performance, Deschamps said: "He was a support for Benzema - his headers defensively and offensively were important. I could have started with Griezmann but would it have worked? No one knows." The caveat for France's seamless progress through the tournament had always been the relative weakness of their group and it was quickly obvious that Nigeria would pose a considerable threat.
With Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa providing pace out wide and Peter Odemwingie given licence to roam in the space behind Emenike, Nigeria were fearless in how they approached the match. Odemwingie's running between France's midfield and defence was a particular threat, with Nigeria unfortunate not to be ahead at half-time. From a free-kick that was cleverly directed towards France's near post by Musa, Emenike deftly cushioned his finish between Hugo Lloris and the post.
Subsequent replays suggested that Emenike was offside but only by the narrowest of distances.
Deschamps had actually made six changes from France's previous match against Ecuador when his team were already qualified but, far from benefiting from the rest, key players initially looked jaded. With Giroud handed the responsibility of knitting together France's attack from the centre-forward's position, Benzema was asked to play out wide on the left. France's most convincing passages of first-half football, however, all involved Pogba and Mathieu Valbuena, who combined to produce one particularly slick move that ended with Pogba's volley forcing Enyeama to make a good save.
Mathieu Debuchy was also threatening with his overlapping runs down the right and, after another clever exchange between Valbuena and Pogba, wasted an excellent chance with a wayward shot. It was soon clear that France's attacking formation was not working, with Giroud laboured and Benzema peripheral. Giroud had also been fortunate in the first half when he appeared to throw an elbow - albeit with limited force - into the face of John Obi Mikel.
Referee Mark Geiger was then even more lenient when Matuidi's dangerous studs-up challenge put Nigeria midfielder Ogenyi Onazi out of the game with an ankle injury. The introduction of Griezmann allowed Benzema to move into his preferred role as the main central striker and he was soon clear on goal after an exchange of passes with the Real Sociedad winger.
Benzema tried to slide his shot beneath Enyeama, who got just enough contact to slow the ball and allow Moses to clear off the line. With Benzema clearly energised by the tactical change, France suddenly came to life and played what was easily their best football of the match.
Valbuena had a shot cleared off the line and Cabaye then rattled the crossbar with the follow-up. The quality of Valbuena's delivery was evident when he crossed for Benzema to force another wonderful save from Enyeama.
The Nigeria goalkeeper was delivering an outstanding performance but, from the resulting corner, the adrenalin seemed to get the better of him. Valbuena's cross was again precise but Enyeama made an ill-judged attempt to collect the cross and only succeeded in palming the ball towards Pogba, who gratefully aimed his header into an empty goal.
Admirably, Enyeama did not let the mistake affect him and actually made another excellent late save to deny Benzema.
By then, however, it was a case of too little too late for Nigeria, with France completing their passage into the quarter-finals when Valbuena's cross was turned into his own goal by Yobo.