Croatia easily disposed of Group D rival Nigeria in their opening World Cup game. The Nigerian fans in the Kaliningrad Stadium suffered from not only a lack of lucky chicken influence, but also a lack of inspiring football. Croatia, however, outplayed Nigeria in every aspect of the game, and comfortably brought home the win. After this, they now sit atop the Group D table.
Croatia- Etebo(OG) 32′, Modric (P) 71′
Subasic, Vrsaljko, Strinic, Lovren, Vida, Modric, Rakitic, Kramaric (Brozovic 60′), Perisic, Rebic (Kovacic 78′), Mandzukic (Pjaca 85′)
Uzoho, Idowu, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Shehu, Ndidi, Etebo, Mikel, Moses, Iwobi (Musa 61′), Ighalo
The first half of this game was largely what you would tend to expect from a match-up like this. Croatia unsurprisingly dominated the possession of this half- a forgone conclusion considering the strength of the Croatian midfield. As was expected, this Nigerian side lacked the quality to contend in this game.
The lone goal of this half will by no means earn a nomination for the Puskas award. An awkward Mandzukic header somehow found the net after the initial off-target shot rebounded from the knee of Oghenekaro Etebo. This creates the odd stat that neither team had a shot on target throughout the first half.
This by no means indicates a sense of equality between the performances of the teams. Croatia were by far the better team in this first half, with the Super Eagles providing little evidence to prove otherwise. The team didn’t even provide aesthetic benefit to the game, clad in their dark green alternate kit rather than the psychedelic primary kits we all know and love. A big second half is needed by the Nigerians if they want to gain anything from this match. If the lucky chickens were present, however, the tale of this half might be different.
An uneventful start to the second half saw more Croatian half-chances with little Nigerian impact. The substitution of Alex Iwobi in favour of Ahmed Musa may have indicated a change in tactics for Nigeria. No doubt they were hoping that his electric pace would inject some competitiveness to the game when faced with Croatia’s relatively slow defensive line. Croatia clearly look to be the better team here, yet again dominating possession whilst Nigeria struggle to break them.
Croatia then seemed to be about to double their lead after Mandzukic was wrestled to the floor by Troost-Ekong during a Croatia corner. No need for the controversial VAR here, however, and a penalty is given. Rightfully enough, Luka Modric calmly slots it into the bottom right corner, sending Uzoho the wrong way in the process. With this, the game turned from bad to worse for Nigeria. Surely it would take something special for the Super Eagles to come back from this.
After this penalty goal, Croatia never seemed complacent in their lead, instead applying more pressure straight from kick-off. The Nigeria defense seemed to have no way to close down the Croatian runs of Perisic in particular, showing several shaky moments throughout this half. In particular, they seemed inept to cope with the searching balls of the Croatian midfield, which constantly left their centre-backs on the back foot. The Croatian defense, however, seemed to be coping comfortably. In these respects, the difference of quality between the two sides became increasingly evident.
As the game drew to a close, it became clearer that Nigeria have completely given up. As the Croatian midfield effortlessly manoeuvre the ball around their defenders, the sight of a Nigerian player standing idly became commonplace. The game was clearly a tale of two very different teams, in terms of both attitude and quality. Final score, Croatia 2-0 Nigeria.
The Lazy Fan View
A promising start to their campaign by Croatia, who excelled over Nigeria in every aspect of this game. The team showed dangerous attacking prowess whilst remaining comfortable at the other end of the pitch. Some questions may be raised due to the unconventional nature of both their goals, however throughout the game no immediate flaws could be seen in their team. It could be a very positive summer for this side in Russia.
Where do I begin with Nigeria? If they had worn their funky primary kits, there may have been something positive to say about this game. Overall, it was a poor showing by the Super Eagles tonight. They only enjoyed limited chances, and didn’t capitalise on any of them. Their poor defending led to both Croatia goals. If Nigeria are to make any progress in this competition, they will need to make several improvements.