World Cup Live: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria preview: Super Eagles seek to end winless run-Second Half

Luka Modric key for Zlatko Dalic's side

World Cup Live: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria preview: Super Eagles seek to end winless run-Second Half

Luka Modric key for Zlatko Dalic's side

16 June 2018 Saturday 21:12
World Cup Live: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria preview: Super Eagles seek to end winless run-Second Half

That was the definition of a routine win for Croatia, with Modric sealing victory with that ice-cool second-half penalty. Straightforward stuff but Nigeria were desperately mediocre; food for thought for Gernot Rohr. Croatia will certainly have to up the ante against a team like Argentina (on Thursday) but, as they say, you can only beat what’s in front of you and they are a classy, professional side. Nigeria take on Iceland on Friday, with anything other than victory bound to end their journey in Russia. Thanks for your company at the end of a jam-packed Super Saturday. Shaun Walker’s report from Kaliningrad will be here shortly:

Luka Modric penalty secures victory for uninspiring Croatia over Nigeria

Croatia go top of Group D after breezing beyond Nigeria in Kaliningrad. That was pretty uneventful, but they cannot all be Friday-night good, can they

90+4 min: “If Nigeria play like this on their next couple of games as well I don’t think that shirt that their supporters queued for for so long will become as fondly remembered as the one it was designed to commemorate,” emails David Wall.

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18m ago21:51

90+2 min: Kovacic has a golden opportunity to add the gloss on a decent evening, but instead of squaring for Perisic, he shoots straight at Uzoho, the Nigeria goalkeeper.

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21m ago21:476

86 min: A neat one-two between Etebo and Musa ends with the former taking a touch on the edge of the box, glancing at goal ... and blazing way over. And then Moses shoots wide.

82 min: Croatia are going through the motions, knocking the ball about nicely. For them, the only sour note has just been and gone, a clumsy elbow by Shehu on Perisic leaving the Internazionale forward in a heap. Nigeria, unfortunately, cannot even claim to have laid a glove on their Group D opponents here.

80 min: Hang on a minute, Iheanacho and Musa combine, with Strinic doing brilliantly to intervene, just as Musa looks to pull the trigger for Nigeria. Moments like that are as good as its got.

78 min: Kovacic, of Real Madrid, replaces Rebic. Croatia are cruising.

phrase

If you say that someone is on cruise control in a contest, you mean that they are winning the contest easily and without needing to make a lot of effort.Google plus

76 min: Nigeria are on their knees, which is even more galling when considering that Croatia’s only effort on target to date has been Modric’s penalty.

72 min: As it stands, Croatia are going top of Group D. They face Argentina on Friday and Nigeria have it all to do. Barring a miracle, they’re facing defeat in Kaliningrad this evening. And now Rebic wins Croatia another corner ...:

GOAL! Croatia 2-0 Nigeria (Modric pen, 71)

Make that four out of six. The Croatia captain doubles their lead, sending Francis Uzoho, the teenage goalkeeper, the wrong way.

 Luka Modric slots home. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images

70 min: Modric will take. Three out five penalties in Russia have been scored so far.

 Mario Mandzukic is manhandled by Troost-Ekong. Photograph: Armando Babani/EPA9

69 min: Penalty to Croatia! ... Mandzukic is fouled by Troost-Ekong, who wraps his arms around the striker and fells him in the box as he rises to meet Modric’s corner.

66 min: Reluctant to speak too soon but Nigeria seem to have run out of ideas. Ighalo is painfully isolated, and seemingly a little disinterested. It’s all bit a lethargic, from both teams. The vuvuzelas are still going strong, though.

Rebic get their wires crossed, bumping into each other on the edge of the box. The former throws his hands into the air. They’re comfortable but, with Nigeria there for the taking, they have lacked any real conviction going forward or killer instinct.

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47m ago21:22

63 min: Modric floats a searching ball into the box, with Troost-Ekong geeing up the troops as Nigeria concede a corner, from which Mandzukic heads wide for Croatia. The game is danger of getting away from them.

61 min: A roll of the dice for Nigeria, with Ahmed Musa replacing Alex Iwobi, who has been pretty anonymous

58 min: Ighalo has half a chance but fails to properly connect, while another former forward, Ivica Olic, now the Croatia assistant manager, is dishing out a few instructions on the touchline. The impressive Kramaric is withdrawn, with Marcelo Brozovic on.1:17

57 min: Nigeria navigate down the right flank through Moses but his cross is tame, and straight down Danijel Subašić’s throat. That’s too easy 

54 min: A big miss by Rebic! A superb raking ball by Rakitic into Perisic, who plays a delightful ball himself. He bends a left-footed cross into Rebic – but the Frankfurt forward cannot send the net bulging, instead firing high and wide. Huge chance.

53 min: Good news for Nigeria? Musa and Iheanacho are warming up.

52 min: Iwobi is busy, bustling in and around the box before Ighalo fouls Strinic. They’re trying but Nigeria do not seem to have any real plan of attack.

50 min: Rakitic lets fly from 30 yards out. It flies over.

48 min: Nigeria win three consecutive early corners, but each one is batted away. Leon Balogun, now of Brighton, had a header deflected wide but that was about as good as it got. Back Nigeria come down the right flank through Victor Moses, but his surging run, after bypassing Strinic, comes to nothing.3

46 min: We’re back under way, with Nigeria presumably a bit more revved-up. They’ve had a hopefully-motivating team huddle at half-time and everything. Also, another nice email, courtesy of Charles Antaki. “This is a reassuringly dull game, just the kind of bland fare a tournament needs after the spicy stuff of Portugal-Spain and Argentina-Iceland,” he says. “And while Nigeria are fairly toothless, they’re clearly not in the Saudi Arabia basement-bin league, so no-one’s pride is likely to be seriously dented. A pleasing interlude.”4

Arguably the standout player of a fairly tepid first half (no shots on target from either side) was Zagreb-born Andrej Kramaric, formerly Leicester City’s forgotten man. He’s been inspired since joining Hoffenheim permanently, though:

A slender lead at the interval, but once Oghenekaro Etebo diverted Mario Mandzukic’s diving header home, Croatia have controlled everything. Not a classic but a few glimpses of quality. The second half will be upon us in no time.

45 min: And Lovren makes a timely block from Alex Iwobi’s driven effort, after the ball dropped on the edge of the box. Nigeria need some kind of spark, after being flattened by that opener. Ighalo and Moses have hidden since the goal. The Nigeria supporters, meanwhile, are still ecstatic in the stands.

44 min: Moses wins a foul down the right flank ...

42 min: Perisic does brilliantly to get goal side of Troost-Ekong, allowing Croatia to pour a few bodies forward. The ball is helped out wide, where a marauding Šime Vrsaljko sends an ambitious effort horribly wide. Still, nice buildup.

39 min: Moments after Modric’s raking crossfield ball to Rebic, Kramaric heads over from a pinpoint Rakitic pass. Croatia’s tails are up now.

35 min: Ah, that’s knocked the stuffing out of Nigeria. Suddenly Croatia, who though not dreadful seemed a little out of sorts, look pretty comfortable. Saying that, every time Nigeria hustle, the Croatia backline seems precarious.

34 min: Inside the Kaliningrad Stadium, the goal was awarded to Kramaric but Etebo’s reaction tells you all you need to know. He’s been hastily deflate

GOAL! Croatia 1-0 Nigeria (Etebo own goal, 32)

They have chiselled out an opener. After more good work by Andrej Kramaric, it all stemmed from Ante Rebic’s deflected effort wide and, from the resulting corner, Mario Mandzukic’s header is helped home by Etebo, signed by Stoke City this week.

30 min: Rakitic scythes down an advancing Moses and he goes into the book. After a few plucky fouls, that’s a yellow card and the Barcelona man has looked off the pace thus far.

28 min: Croatia pump the ball up to Mandzukic but that’s easy for Nigeria to gobble up. Gernot Rohr may well be the happier manager so far, despite Perisic having arguably the best glimpse of goal after almost half an hour.

27 min: Perisic’s searching cross from the left looks dangerous for a moment but Rebic, in the box, is penalised for a push on the Nigeriadefender. We go again.

25 min: Nigeria are knocking it around nicely when they have it but it’s getting snuffed out in the final third. This time Moses starts the move, they spread the ball from right-to-left, with Idowu doing well before Ighalo runs into a red-and-white roadblock. Neither have really got into their groove just yet.

23 min: Rakitic is again guilty of giving away a free-kick on halfway, gifting Nigeria the chance to get bodies forward. They don’t really gain any ground, though, with Croatia soon seizing possession once more. It’s been that kind of start.

21 min: Nigeria break through Ighalo but it’s a half-hearted effort, from an acute angle before Etebo has a go from distance. They’re trying to up the ante at least.

19 min: A training ground set-piece ends in disappointment for Croatia, with Modric whipping in a deep cross, with Perisic arriving late. But it’s all a bit predictable and Nigeria are wise to it. Moses drives forward, claiming a foul that wasn’t and they are forced back into defence. The sound of vuvuzelas rules at the moment.

17 min: Modric picks out Rebic with a cute crossfield ball. He then finds Perisic, who wins Croatia another corner. Lovren and Vida, the centre-backs are up for it but Ighalo, the Nigeria striker, hoofs a lukewarm cross clear. And now Croatia look to build again, patiently prying, waiting to find that killer pass.

15 min: Both teams are just beginning to suss each other out a little more, and now Andrej Kramaric sends an effort flying past Uzoho’s post. It’s hotting up.

13 min: Croatia get their first sighting of goal, with Ivan Perisic sending a shot on goal. It’s a lovely, first-time effort after a swift counterattacking move, after Nigeria pressed forward themselves, winning a third free-kick in quick succession. That was half a chance for Croatia.

10 min: Croatia sit off Troost-Ekong, inviting the Nigeria defender to hang on to the ball before pumping it long in search of Victor Moses. He almost gets there, but doesn’t. And now Nigeria play a quick free-kick after Etebo is fouled. The ball comes down the left-hand side, with Mikel, of all people, hooking a cross into the box but it’s straight down the goalkeeper’s throat. And that’s that.

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23m ago20:10

9 min: Croatia play a short corner, despite Mandzukic being among the targets in the box, and their invention fails to come to anything. Rakitic is then penalised for a late foul on the edge of the box. Nigeria will be content with this start, even if they are yet to pull up any trees as such. Mikel and co look comfortable on the ball in midfield in these early stages too.

7 min: It certainly seems a decent atmosphere inside the Kaliningrad Stadium, with Croatia fans up on their feet after winning a corner.

5 min: Nigeria win a foul on the halfway line but it comes to nothing, with Kramaric breaking down the left. He had a torrid time at Leicester City last year but seems to be an influential figure in this Croatia team. Moses, the Nigeria winger, is backtracking early on, with Croatia bombing forward.

4 min: Rakitic’s attempt to play a raking ball is cut out by Troost-Ekong. Plenty of attacking intent from Croatia to begin with in Kaliningrad, while Nigeria seem happy to play second-fiddle, for now at least.

3 min: Croatia get back on the front foot, surging down the left with Perisic lurking in the middle but Bryan Idowu cuts it out.

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2 min: A trademark cagey opening, a few strokes from left-to-right across the Croatia defence before a foray forward ends with Kramaric flagged offside.

Peeeeeeeeeeeeep!

And off we go, with Nigeria winning an early free-kick; Lovren clatters Ighalo.

Croatia and Nigeria meet for the first time in Kaliningrad on Saturday (kick-off 8pm BST) in a World Cup clash that could prove crucial to their chances.

Argentina are hot favourites to win Group D and, with Euro 2016 quarter-finalists Iceland potentially awkward opponents, both sides will aim to boost their hopes of progressing with three points by the Baltic Sea.

Nigeria, the lowest-ranked side in the group, reached the last 16 in Brazil four years ago but come into this tournament having failed to win any of their last four friendlies, with manager Gernot Rohr hinting he will revert back to previous formations to help the Super Eagles seal a victory.

MARIO MANDZUKIC AND ODION IGHALO BOTH TO SCORE IN 90 MINS (WAS 10/1)

VICTOR MOSES TO SCORE AND NIGERIA TO WIN IN 90 MINS (WAS 11/1)

Nigeria will face Argentina for the fifth time in just their sixth World Cup finals appearance in Russia, and they're yet to win a single one.

"We were trying out different formations but we are going to switch back to the way we played over the last year coming to this World Cup. If we do exactly what we know we can do, to control the game and be aggressive, we can do well," he said.

"Our players have a lot to prove and this is a very good stage for them but it's also important to keep their emotions in check. We are staying humble but we are also ambitious and if we are to get out of this group, we have to make a result against Croatia."

Croatia boast the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in their ranks but failed to progress from the group stage in Brazil and needed a play-off to reach Russia.

Luka Modric is expected to inspire Croatia in Russia

But manager Zlatko Dalic is confident he has the perfect mix of youth and experience this time around, saying: "We have a very good set of players who are the driving forces of big clubs and young players - it's a good mixture of youth and experience.

"It is right that expectations are high and we expect from ourselves more than anybody else. I hope we will prove all those flattering epithets right and that this generation will get a result with some luck along the way. We are full of self-belief and ready to show some good football."

Team news

Question marks remain over Croatia's left-back position, though Ivan Strinic is being tipped to get the nod, as well as how best to deploy versatile forward Andrej Kramaric.

Injury forced Moses Simon to pull out of the Nigeria squad ahead of the tournament, although Leicester midfielder Wilfried Ndidi is fit to play despite some concerns over his inclusion.

'Great expectations in Croatia'

Slaven Bilic discusses Croatia's World Cup hopes, their key players and their new manager ahead of Russia 2018.

Opta stats

This will be the first ever encounter between Croatia and Nigeria. Croatia's only previous World Cup game against African opposition saw them beat Cameroon 4-0 in June 2014.

Croatia have qualified for their fifth World Cup after beating Greece in the play-offs. They finished third in their first ever appearance (1998) but have since then failed to reach the knockout stages in their three subsequent appearances.

Croatia have lost their opening group game in each of their last three World Cups, their last two openers coming against Brazil (2006, 2014).

The last four World Cup games involving Croatia have produced five red cards (3 for Croatia, 2 for the opponents).

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Croatia face Nigeria in their Group D opener at the World Cup with Dejan Lovren looking to contain the Super Eagles stiker Kelechi Iheanacho

Nigeria have qualified for their sixth World Cup but have won only one of their last 12 games (D3 L8) - against Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2014 (1-0). They've also failed to win the opening game in their last three appearances (D1 L2), remaining goalless in all three games.

Ivan Perisic was directly involved in exactly half of Croatia's goals at the last World Cup (2 goals, 1 assist).

On the opening day of the tournament, Nigeria's squad will have an average age of 25 years and 336 days, the youngest of any team in the competition.

Merson's prediction

I think Croatia will beat Nigeria. I watched Nigeria in the first half against England recently, and they were terrible. But they have already beaten Argentina last year and this is the problem - you get sides who are so inconsistent that you do not really know which one is going to turn up. Meanwhile I do like Croatia, they are a good football team.

PAUL PREDICTS: 2-0 (6/1 with Sky Bet)

Betting

Croatia are Sky Bet odds-on favourites at 3/4 to win this opener, with Nigeria 9/2 outsiders to secure an opening group game victory, with the draw priced at 5/2. Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic is favourite to open the goal scoring at 4/1, with Leicester's Kelechi Iheanacho Nigeria's best chance to score the opener at 13/2. Croatia are 33/1 to win the World Cup, with Nigeria at 250/1 to go all the way.

Updated: 17.06.2018 13:49
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