Croatia has opened their World Cup campaign on the right foot with a 2-0 over Nigeria at Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday night.
An own-goal on the half hour and a Luka Modric penalty was enough to send Croatia to the top of Group D after Argentina and Iceland drew earlier in the day.
Zlatko Dalic named Croatia’s most attacking starting lineup ever at a major tournament, starting with four attacking players – Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric and Mario Mandzukic – in a 4-2-3-1.
Croatia looked in control from the start of the match, controlling possession and looking the more likely side early on. In the 13th the first chance fell to Perisic after good lead up work from Ivan Strinic and Modric, but his shot would fly just over the crossbar.
Kramaric went close two minutes later as his header from an Ivan Rakitic cross could only hit the top netting. Croatia finally took the lead in the 32nd minute when Nigeria defender Etebo deflected in Mandzukic’s diving header after Rebic flicked on Modric’s corner at the near post.
Nigeria, who failed to get anything going in the first spell, started the second-half hungrier with back-t0-back corners, however, Croatia’s defence was up to the task.
Dalic made his first change in the 60th minute, introducing Marcelo Brozovic for Kramaric as he looked to sure up the midfield. Croatia continued to press looking for the second and it would come in the 70th minute when Croatia was awarded a penalty for a foul on Mandzukic. Modric made no mistake from the spot.
Nigeria’s inexperience at this level was evident and Croatia could have scored more had their accuracy and precision been sharper but coach Dalic will be happy with their start at the tournament.
Rebic worked hard and looked dangerous, Modric and Rakitic worked well together in midfield and the back four, especially Lovren and Vida, were excellent.
Croatia will face Argentina next on 21 June.
Croatia 2-0 Nigeria
Group D, Kaliningrad Stadium Kaliningrad
16 Jun 2018 – 21:00 Local time
GOALS: Etebo 32′ OG, Modric 70′ (P)
CROATIA: Subasic – Strinic, Lovren, Vida, Vrsaljko, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Rebic (Kovacic 80′), Kramaric (Brozovic 60′), Mandzukic (Pjaca 85′)
NIGERIA: Uzoho – Idowu, Ndidi, Ekong, Balogun, Etebo, Ighalo, Mikel, Moses, Shehu, Iwobi