Saturday 15 December 2018

Croatia beat Nigeria to take full advantage of Argentina’s slip-up

With Iceland having held Argentina to a 1-1 draw earlier on Saturday, Croatia took full advantage.

Captain Luka Modric, left, helped Croatia get off to a winning start at the 2018 World Cup. (Petr David Josek/AP)
Captain Luka Modric, left, helped Croatia get off to a winning start at the 2018 World Cup. (Petr David Josek/AP)

By Press Association Sport staff

Croatia took the early initiative in Group D as they saw off Nigeria 2-0 in their World Cup opener at the Kaliningrad Stadium.

With Iceland having held Argentina to a 1-1 draw earlier on Saturday, Croatia took full advantage.

An own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo, set to play at Stoke next season, broke the deadlock just after the hour, with a penalty from captain Luca Modric with 20 minutes left securing three points for Zlatko Dalic’s men.

Croatia had the better of the opening exchanges, with Andrej Kramaric’s long-range effort drifting wide of the right-hand post.

The deadlock was broken in the 32nd minute in somewhat fortunate circumstances.

Modric’s corner was flicked on by Ante Rebic. Mario Mandzukic’s tame diving header looked to be going wide, before the ball was deflected in off midfielder Etebo.

Croatia, though, welcomed their slice of good fortune – and almost added a second just before half-time when Kramaric’s header dropped onto the roof of the net.

The Super Eagles, who played England in a warm-up match at Wembley, regrouped at the interval.

Mandzukic was in the right place in his own penalty area to block Leon Balogun as the defender aimed to head in from a corner.

Chelsea midfielder Victor Moses then fired a low shot wide at the near post.

Croatia should have doubled their lead in the 56th minute, when Ivan Perisic whipped the ball across the Nigeria penalty area from the left channel, only for Eintracht Frankfurt winger Ante Rebic to send his close-range volley wide.

Moses claimed for a penalty when he went down in a heap under a challenge from Ivan Strinic, but Brazilan referee Sandro Ricci waved away the appeal.

With 20 minutes left, Croatia were awarded a spot-kick after Mandzukic was man-handled by Bursaspor defender William Troost-Ekong at a corner.

Modric made no mistake with the penalty, sending goalkeeper Francis Uzoho the wrong way as the Real Madrid midfielder tucked the ball into the bottom left corner.

From there, it looked a tall order for Nigeria to find a way back into the match.

Leicester forward Kelechi Iheanacho, on a substitute, got clear down the left, but Ahmed Musa’s shot was bravely blocked by Strinic.

Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic saw a late one-on-one chance saved.

Croatia moved to the top of Group D ahead of the showdown against Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod on June 21.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Press Association

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport