The second game of Group D in the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia was Croatia vs Nigeria. The two teams battled out a fierce encounter on Saturday with the final scoreline of 2-0 to Croatia.
The game started off slowly but picked up the pace it progressed. The two teams were feeling each other out and were being extremely cautious in their approach.
A lot was talked about Nigeria’s average squad age and the inexperience of their players performing at the big stages. Croatia aptly used this weakness to their strenghts and started to create pressure.
At the 37th minute, it paid off. The team got a corner after Nigeria tried to hold on after wave after wave of Croatian attacks. Mario Mandzukic flicked hoping somoene would get on it. That someone was Nigeria’s Oghenekaro Etebo, who put the ball in the back of his own net. Disastrous scenes for Nigeria, a stroke of luck for Croatia.
The Super Eagles did finish the half on a strong note, by showing the urgency of getting back in the game. The created two-three chances but were always defended well by their opponent. The teams went into the break with Croatia in lead.
Second-half started with a cautious Croatia, aware of the potent abilities of Nigeria. They have always had a fierce counter-attacking game, and coach Zlatko Dalic was wary of it. He set up his team to completely change the game plan, and control the ball in the midfield with limited attack.
He took of his front man in Andrej Kramaric and brought in a defensive midfielder in Marcelo Brozovic to suffocate Nigeria.
This tactic paid off as Nigeria struggled to keep possession for long spells and create chances. Everything they did, was shut down by Croatia. Brozovic who naturally likes moving forward also created attacks which made Nigeria think about another dimension of threat.
However, the game was sealed when Mario Mandzukic, who had worked his socks off for his team, was fouled in the penalty area. Real Madrid midfielder and Croatia’s captain Luka Modric dispatched it in the bottom left corner, doubling his side’s lead and killing the game.
Nigeria threw in the kitchen sink after being two goals, down and it left them exposed to counter-attacks. Their coach Gernot Rohr was seen fuming along the touchline, as his team was getting caught out in every aspect of the game. What was thought to be a close encounter, was actually a one-sided domination. Croatia had mentally broken Nigeria before the game and the droopy shoulders affirmed that notion.
With the other two teams in their group being played earlier, when Iceland held onto an impressive 1-1 draw against Lionel Messi’s Argentina, this win propels Croatia to the top spot.