Croatia cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win over Nigeria courtesy of a stellar performance from midfielder Luka Modric. The Real Madrid man provided vision and creativity in a game that was otherwise devoid of those qualities.
The match was played at a slow tempo and neither team generated many scoring opportunities, as they combined for just four shots on goal. Croatia broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute courtesy of a fortunate deflection.
Modric whipped in a corner that was headed on by Ante Rebic, then again by Mario Mandzukic. Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo didn’t have time to get out of the way as the ball deflected off his leg and in to give Croatia the lead.
The Croats then doubled their advantage from the spot in the 71st minute. There was no doubt about the penalty decision from the referee after William Ekong wrestled Mandzukic to the ground in the box. Modric stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way to seal the three points for the Balkan nation.
Overall, the match was not one to remember. Nigeria were passive and lacked any sort of energy or aggression, a worrying sign for such a young team that should be hungry to prove themselves on the world stage.
Croatia were decent but will certainly need to be better if they hope to make a deep run in the tournament. The other teams in Group D won’t allow them as much space to operate as Nigeria did.
Mandzukic was excellent in doing the dirty work up front while Modric was brilliant in the midfield, but some of Croatia’s other big name players didn’t play up to their standards. It was an ugly win, but for now Croatia won’t care.
Challenges await both teams in their next Group D fixtures. Croatia go up against Messi and Argentina on Thursday, while Nigeria take on the well-regimented defense of Iceland on Friday.
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