The Europeans’ midfield prowess might just be the best we have seen in the World Cup until now.
The second game of Group D at the 2018 FIFA World Cup saw Croatia beat Nigeria with ease. An own-goal from The Super Eagles’ Oghenekaro Etebo and a penalty from Luka Modric ensured that the Vatrenis head to the all-important game against Argentina with three points in the bag and top spot in the group.
Khel Now takes a look at five things we have learned from the encounter on Saturday night.
Watch: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria highlights
5. Luka Modric was the standout player of the game
Luka Modric did, in the beginning, operated as a deep-lying playmaker. But, after the substitution of Andrej Kramaric, he was asked to fill in the vacant #10 position. The 32-year-old’s long passes were very helpful for Croatia while going forward and his tackles to break down the Nigerian counter-attacks allowed the likes of Ante Rebic, Kramaric and Ivan Perisic to press more.
The hard work and excellence of Modric were duly recognised and he was given the opportunity to put the game to bed by scoring the penalty.
4. Odion Ighalo had no support up front
Nigerian failed to provide any assistance to lone striker Odion Ighalo throughout the game. The likes of Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi failed to provide cutting-edge passes and also made zero impact in the opposition box. The African side needed an hour to have their first shot on target and this was when they were already a goal down to the eastern Europeans.
Ighalo was left out in the opposition box and had only 16 touches on the ball throughout his 70-odd minute stay on the pitch. Clearly, the former Watford striker expected more help from his teammates.
3. Mario Mandzukic is made for big games
While most of the players would crumble in a high-pressure situation, someone like Mario Mandzukic enjoys being in such circumstances. Be it a Champions League final against Real Madrid, or in a World Cup finals game against Nigeria, the striker can be trusted to deliver time and again.
The forward was a constant threat in front of goal and also created a few opportunities for his teammates. While it was Mandzukic’s header that got deflected for the first goal, he won the penalty in the second half to put the final nail in Nigeria’s coffin.
2. Nigeria were no match for Croatia’s fancied midfield
With the likes of Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Kramaric on the field, as well as Mateo Kovacic, and Maarcelo Brozovic on the bench, one would certainly put a wager on the Croatian midfield. Nigeria had the herculean task of matching them and they failed horribly.
While Kramaric and Rakitic were excellent, Modric capped off the game with the second goal.
1. Croatia get the upper hand in the group
Croatia defeated Nigeria to pocket all three points, while Lionel Messi‘s Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw by debutants Iceland. This results see Croatia moving to the top of the group and having a real chance of making it into the knockout stages as group toppers.
All that Zlatko Dalic’s men have to do is avoid a defeat against Argentina and beat Iceland. Finishing at the top of a group with Argentina and Nigeria in it would do a world of good to the confidence of the Croatians.