KALININGRAD (RUSSIA), June 17: A Luka Modric penalty and an own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo gave former semifinalists Croatia an easy 2-0 win over Nigeria in their World Cup Group D opener.
Croatia players celebrate after teammate Luka Modric, scored from a penalty spot during the World Cup group D match against Nigeria in the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia, on Saturday. – AP/ PTI
In Russia’s sleepy European exclave of Kaliningrad – perhaps best known for its nuclear missile sites – the much-hyped youngsters of Nigeria struggled to ignite against Croatia’s midfield technicians yesterday.
With rivals Argentina and Iceland only managing a 1-1 draw earlier in the day in Saransk, both sides had a chance to take control of Group D.
Nigeria, knowing they were always likely to struggle for possession against a central one-two of Modric and Ivan Rakitic, were content to sit back and allow Croatia to come to them.
But they were rigid and well-organised, and largely restricted Modric’s distribution to the flanks, where Croatia’s final ball was poor.
After 10 minutes, Juventus target man Mario Mandzukic teed up Ivan Perisic at the edge of the area only for the Inter Milan forward to blaze over.
Croatia, semifinalists at France ’98, have struggled to live up to the lofty expectations borne of an embarrassment of midfield riches, and meekly lost their World Cup opener 3-1 to hosts Brazil four years ago.
There is a sense of now-or-never for the Balkans nation at this tournament, in stark contrast to Nigeria, who brought the competition’s youngest squad to Russia. – AFP