By Iain Rogers
BRASILIA, June 29 (Reuters) - France's recent form and impressive run at the World Cup finals has led to an improved relationship with the fans of Les Bleus, captain Hugo Lloris said ahead of Monday's last-16 clash against Nigeria.
France finished second to Spain in their European qualifying group and were heading for elimination against Ukraine in the playoffs before a 3-0 victory in the second leg in Paris secured their place in Brazil by 3-2 on aggregate.
Goalkeeper Lloris said that win at the Stade de France was a turning point and victories against Norway and the Netherlands in warm-up games helped banish the memories of years of underachievement, infighting and ill-discipline following their sole World Cup win in 1998.
"There have been some ups and downs in the past few years that's true," Lloris, flanked by coach Didier Deschamps, told a news conference at the national stadium in Brasilia on Sunday.
"But since the return leg against Ukraine we have noticed a change, a rekindled fondness from the fans," he added.
"We have done what we needed and made the effort on the pitch to make the fans happy so far but we want to go further."
France demonstrated their attacking potential in the 5-2 drubbing of Switzerland in Group E and will be confident they can get past a Nigeria side that squeezed through behind Argentina from Group F which also featured Bosnia and Iran.
The winners of Monday's game will meet European heavyweights Germany or surprise package Algeria in the quarter-finals.
Deschamps, who captained France to their 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs, said he was still waiting on the fitness of centre back Mamadou Sakho, who has a leg muscle problem, but otherwise had a full squad available.
"We will see today how he responds," Deschamps said. "He did some running yesterday. I will decide later whether he can play or not."
Lloris said France's form in the group stage would count for nothing if they failed to perform in their first outing in the knockout round and he expected a very tight game against the African champions that would likely be decided by a "detail".
"Before the competition we were never labelled as one of the favourites," Lloris said.
"It's true we had some good matches in the group phase but it's like a new tournament now.
"You need a lot of energy and a lot of concentration at his stage if you want to get through.
"We will need to be focused and this kind of match will be decided on a detail so we will need to be vigilant right until the end." (Editing by Ken Ferris)
- Sports & Recreation
- Hugo Lloris
- Didier Deschamps
- Stade de France