BELO HORIZONTE Brazil (Reuters) - France reached the World Cup quarter-finals on Monday with a 2-0 win over Nigeria that left only one African team still in, while Uruguay striker Luis Suarez broke his silence to apologize for biting.
Algeria, the remaining African side and also the sole Arab nation represented, play Germany in Monday’s second game.
Seeking to make up for their humiliating early exit four years ago, the French left it late in Brasilia to break down a hard-working Nigeria team, scoring twice in the last 11 minutes.
‘Super Eagles’ goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who had been excellent until then, flapped at a corner in the 79th minute, leaving Paul Pogba an open goal to head into after French pressure had been steadily building in the second half.
“To score a goal for your country, especially in an important match like this to get into the World Cup quarter-finals, it’s one of the best moments of my life,” an elated Pogba said afterwards.
‘Les Bleus’ struck again at the death when Nigeria defender Joseph Yobo skewed a cross into his own goal.
African champions Nigeria have never progressed beyond the last 16.
The two goals took the tally for the tournament to 147, surpassing the 145 scored in the entire 2010 World Cup.
France next play the winners of Germany-Algeria, who were meeting in Porto Alegre in their first match since the 1982 World Cup. The north Africans beat West Germany then, but were controversially eliminated when Germany beat Austria 1-0 in what appeared a contrived result to let the two neighbors advance.
Off the pitch, it was again Suarez making all the headlines - though this time for the right reasons.
In a contrite statement from his home in Uruguay, the brilliant but volatile striker said he had time to reflect on his biting of an Italian defender and apologized to the world.
“I repent deeply. I ask for the forgiveness of Giorgio Chiellini and all the football family,” he said.
“I publicly promise that an incident like that will never occur again with my involvement.”
Nevertheless, Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica upped the ante over the saga, calling FIFA bosses “sons of bitches” for giving a “fascist” punishment of a four-month football ban to Suarez for the incident during Uruguay’s first round defeat of Italy.
Controversy also swirled over another forward seldom out of the headlines, the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben.
All of Mexico was still fuming at Robben’s tumble that earned a last-ditch penalty to put the Dutch through on Sunday.
Mexican fans excoriated and mocked him mercilessly on social media, some depicting an arm-flailing Robben leaping into the sea off rocks at a famous diving spot in Acapulco.
Robben, 30, fanned the controversy further by insisting the tackle from Mexican captain Rafael Marquez was a penalty, but confessing he had dived in another incident earlier in the game.
“In the first half I went to ground without being fouled, without being touched and that was a stupid action,” he said. “I am an honest guy, I am a straight guy, that’s my personality and I apologize for what happened in the first half.”
FIFA said there was unlikely to be any retrospective action, drawing accusations of hypocrisy given the punishment to Suarez.
There was a sanction, albeit a relatively mild one of a single match ban, for another miscreant, Brazil’s senior press official Rodrigo Paiva.
He was involved in a half-time tunnel scuffle with Chilean striker Mauricio Pinilla in the last-16 clash.
“I demand that FIFA give Rodrigo Paiva an exemplary punishment just like the one imposed on my colleague Suarez…!!! This is even more serious! There are images,” a still aggrieved Pinilla said via Twitter from the Chilean capital.
The fallout from Ghana’s disastrous World Cup continued, with midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng saying preparations had been a “nightmare”. Ghana exited with one point in three games and Boateng was suspended for a row with his coach.
German-born Boateng told SportBild magazine players’ legs had hurt after being “squeezed” into an economy-class flight to Brazil while football federation president sat in business.
The team hotel was a “dump” and his room became flooded, while one training session was boycotted over unpaid bonuses, Boateng said in a scathing account of Ghana’s campaign.
“I would have never thought a World Cup preparation could be organized that badly. Everything was amateurish ,” he said.
Additional reporting by Mike Collett, Karolos Grohmann, Brian Homewood in Brazil, Alexandra Ulmer in Santiago, Malena Castaldi in Montevideo, Editing by Nigel Hunt