Saturday, June 16, 2018

Modric-inspired Croatia open with a win

No shots on target, one goal. The statistics at half-time during Croatia's meeting with Nigeria reflected an opening 45 minutes shaded by the Balkan side – but largely dominated by defenders. Ivan Perisic went closest to hitting the target with an effort from 20m after a quarter of an hour, but in the end it was Nigeria's Oghenekaro Etebo who brought joy to the huge Croatian contingent in Kaliningrad, beating his own goalkeeper following a corner.
Cautious in the first half, Nigeria came out with more purpose after the break, only for Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida to keep Odion Ighalo well and truly quiet. In fact, just as the Super Eagles began turning up the pressure on Danijel Subasic's goal, the *Vatreni* (The Fiery Ones) responded by doubling their lead, Luka Modric converting from the spot after William Ekong held Mario Mandzukic in the box. It was no less than Modric deserved after a superb display that earned him the Budweiser Man of the Match award.

This was a difficult match for Croatia, but the Vatreni picked up three points in an excellent opening game for Zlatko Dalic's men. Perhaps they still need to find their rhythm, and perhaps they were not especially impressive, but ultimately they came out on top. There were gaps in the Nigerian defence and Croatia were able to make the most of them.

Nigeria had trouble creating chances, and unfortunate mistakes at set-pieces proved very costly against superior opposition. The Super Eagles lacked imagination up front, and although they were mostly able to frustrate Croatia's talented forwards at the back, it was not enough to secure three points. They now need to overcome Iceland to stave off the prospect of an early exit.

Croatia's captain and playmaker Luka Modric was a decisive presence, taking the corner that led to the opening goal before burying the penalty that gave the Vatreni breathing space. On top of those two crucial contributions, he shone throughout the game with his vision and slick passing.

Croatia ended a run of three games without a victory in their opening fixture at a World Cup. The Vatreni's last win in their first game had been a 3-1 defeat of Jamaica in 1998.

What's next
Argentina v Croatia - Group D, 21 June, Nizhny Novgorod
Nigeria v Iceland - Group D, 22 June, Moscow, Volgograd

No comments: