Well, aren’t those new Nigeria kits great? Even if Nigeria crash out in the group stage, at least they’ll still comfortably win the World Cup Kit Cup. The Super Eagles open their campaign against the quiet European giants of Croatia.
Croatia boast a strong squad for this World Cup. In particular, their midfield corps excels above the rest. In recent years, Luka Modric has cemented his place at the forefront of modern passing midfielders. The contributions of Madrid team-mate Mateo Kovacic and Barcelona rival Ivan Rakitic increase the dangerous aspect of this group. For all the grief I gave Dejan Lovren in my initial Croatia preview, the defender showed quality throughout the Champions League Final. For these reasons, the Croatians make a significant footballing force.
After the unveiling of *that* beautiful kit, the hype for Nigeria was at an all time high. After their lackluster showing against England, however, spirits dropped slightly. I still stand by the reservations I outlined in my Nigeria preview. The team lacks a natural finisher. Despite Alex Iwobi’s goal in the aforementioned England friendly, the rest of the attacking force is relatively tame. Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa have both struggled to find the target for Leicester. Iwobi himself is known to be inconsistent. The general lack of depth in this squad limits it further. In an environment such as the World Cup, depth is of utmost importance due to the close proximity of the games. For several positions, Nigeria lack the overall quality to field a winning team at all times.
In this match-up, a Croatia win seems most likely. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this game revolves completely around the Croatian midfield. Expect Croatia to dominate at least 60% of possession, resulting in a passing masterclass for the Super Eagles. The idea of a Nigeria underdog run is entertaining, granted. However, this constant crotch-kick of a world in which we all live in often doesn’t allow dreams like this. I predict Croatia to win with a scoreline of 3-0.