It wasn’t the kind of start the Super Eagles of Nigeria would have wished for as they lost their opening game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia, losing 2-0 to Croatia at the Kaliningrad Stadium.
An own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo in the first half, and a coolly converted penalty kick in the second half from Luka Modric ensured that Croatia will go top of group D, with Nigeria down at the bottom.
With Argentina playing out an unprecedented 1-1 with World Cup debutants Iceland, the game against Croatia took a new dimension as the winner of the tie would shoot up to the top of the group.
Croatia’s midfield led by Luka Modric pegged back the Nigerians in the first 45 minutes and the Real Madrid player pulled the strings from deep. The Super Eagles gave up many corner kicks, and it was from one that they conceded the first goal.
Mario Mandzukic’s header came off Etebo for an own goal in the 32nd minute, with Nigeria trailing 1-0 going into the break.
With the second half commencing, Nigeria went in search of an equalizer, pressing further up the pitch in search of a goal. However, lacking the cutting edge in attack, the Super Eagles couldn’t find a way past Danijel Subasic.
All hopes for an equalizer were lost after William Troost-Ekong conceded a blatant penalty, wrapping his left arm around Mandzukic and wrestling him down to the grass.
Modric stepped up and sent Nigeria’s keeper Francis Uzoho the wrong way and doubling his side’s advantage in the 71st minute. From then it was mission impossible as Nigeria couldn’t find a response.
Nigeria with this defeat is now bottom of group D and will now have to win their last two games against Iceland and Argentina if they are to make the next round of the tournament.
Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr on the defeat said: “We’re really disappointed we lost this game. Croatia were the better team. We could have come back into it in the second half after we started very well before the penalty against us. We’re a young team, we’re learning and I hope in the next game against Iceland we will do much better.”