Modric, Croatia edge past Nigeria 2-0
Croatia 2 (Etebo og 32’, Modric pen 71’)
By Jakob Gisik
A Luka Modric penalty and a first-half own goal were enough to give Croatia a 2-0 win over Nigeria in the Group D opener at Kaliningrad Stadium .
The victory marks Croatia’s first opening game win at a World Cup since their debut in the tournament in 1998.
Croatia hit the front in the 32nd minute, when a Modric corner found a diving Mario Mandzukic, whose glancing header deflected off Oghenekaro Etebo at the back post and into the goal.
Modric then sealed the match in the 71st minute, when he calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner from the penalty spot.
It was a dominant performance from the midfielder, who believes his side will continue to improve over the tournament.
“It’s a great start for Croatia, we deserved to win,” said Modric.
“I believe that on the wings of this win we will up our game and continue our journey in the way we planned before coming here.”
— FIFA World Cup ???? (@FIFAWorldCup) June 16, 2018
It was a steady start for Modric and his side, who controlled possession early against the African nation.
Their first chance of the match came in the 11th minute, when a powerful strike by Ivan Perisic from the top of the box sailed just centimetres over the bar.
Nigeria’s first chance came 10 minutes later when Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic cleared the ball with his head, but only as far as Etebo, who failed to find the target with a long-range effort.
Etebo was back in the action shortly after, when he lost sight of a glancing Mandzukic header and cruelly tapped the ball into his own net.
Down 1-0, the Super Eagles had a chance to level the scores just after half-time, when Chelsea winger Victor Moses cut into the penalty area from the right, but his shot went wide of the near post.
Mandzukic, who had a hand in Croatia’s opening goal, was also heavily involved in their second goal, as he was grabbed from behind and pulled down by William Troost-Ekong inside the box.
Modric stepped up and converted the resulting penalty, his first goal in six World Cup matches.
Croatia should have added a third in stoppage time, when substitute Mateo Kovacic decided to shoot rather than pass to an unmarked teammate and his shot was well saved by Nigerian keeper Francis Uzoho.
It was a difficult night for the African side, who lacked the intensity and flair that many expected them to bring to the World Cup.
They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves against Iceland on Saturday morning, while Croatia will be looking to make it two-from-two against Argentina on Friday.
Shots (On Target)
Croatia – 12 (2)
Nigeria – 14 (2)
Croatia – 55%
Nigeria – 45%
Croatia – 20
Nigeria – 16
Croatia – 6
Nigeria – 5
Croatia: 23 Subasic (GK), 2 Vrsalijko, 3 Strinic, 4 Perisic, 6 Lovren, 7 Rakitic, 9 Kramaric (60’), 10 Modric, 17 Mandzukic (86’), 18 Rebic (78’), 21 Vida.
Substitutes: 1 Livakovic (GK), 5 Corluka, 8 Kovacic (78’), 11 Brozovic (60’), 12 Kalinic, 13 Jedvaj, 14 Bradaric, 15 Caleta-Car, 16 Kalinic, 19 Badeji, 20 Pjaca (86’), 22 Pivaric.
Nigeria: 23 Uzoho (GK), 2 Idowu, 4 Ndidi, 5 Troost-Ekong, 6 Balogun, 8 Etebo, 9 Ighalo (73’), 10 Obi Mikel (88’), 11 Moses, 12 Shehu, 18 Iwobi (62’).
Substitutes: 1 Ezenwa (GK), 3 Echiejile, 7 Musa (73’), 13 Nwankwo (88’), 14 Iheanacho (62’) 15 Obi, 16 Akpeyi, 17 Onazi, 19 Ogu, 20 Awaziem, 21 Ebuehi, 22 Omeruo.