When France were awarded a corner in the 91st minute against Nigeria they could have kept the ball and protected their lead, but they went on the attack and scored. Good for them
Most teams react the same way when they are awarded a corner in the final minute of a match they are winning. They try to protect their lead. The player taking the kick will usher a team-mate into the corner and roll the ball to his feet. The pair of them will bend over the ball, sheltering it from impatient defenders who desperately hack away at their feet in the hope that they can win back possession and mount one final attack for their team. It is an ugly sight and a drab way to finish a football match.
When France were awarded a corner in the 91st minute of their match against Nigeria on Monday they took a different approach. They were 1-0 up with a few seconds to play but instead of trying to waste those final moments stooping over a ball in the corner of the pitch, they went on the attack.
Mathieu Valbuena played a quick one-two with Karim Benzema and then shot down Nigeria's byline. The Nigeria defenders approached the corner for the obligatory wrestling match but Valbuena skipped past them and looked up to see Antoine Griezmann making a run towards the Nigeria goal. Valbuena slipped the ball across the goalmouth, where Griezmann challenged for it with Joseph Yobo, who was unlucky to see the ball bounce off his leg and into the net.
Griezmann rolled off in celebration and France rolled into the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The goal was the 147th of this remarkable World Cup, which now boasts more goals than the 145 scored in South Africa four years ago. By the time the Maracanã has hosted the final on 13 July, this tournament could have overtaken France 1998 as the most prolific World Cup in history.
We will look back on Robin van Persie's diving header, Lionel Messi's late winners and Neymar's brilliance, but that 91st-minute own goal will also stand up as a symbol of this tournament's attacking ethos. Valbuena, Benzema and Griezmann could have wasted a few seconds by grappling with Nigeria players in the corner, but instead they took the kick quickly and killed off the match in style. The next time a team has a lead to protect in the dying minutes of a game let's hope they see attack as the best form of defence. As Wayne Gretzky once said: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."