Kaliningrad, June 17: Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 on Saturday night with an own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo and a penalty from Luka Modric to go top of World Cup Group D, one of the toughest and most unpredictable in the tournament.
Veteran striker Mario Mandzukic played his part in both the goals from Croatia, who now have three points.
Croatia, playing with a 4-2-3-1 formation, expectedly controlled the game from the beginning. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, playing in a two-man midfield, had their say in everything, making critical forward passes and stopping Nigeria’s mobility towards Croatian goal.
Croatian left winger Ivan Perisic had the first shot on goal as Mandzukic teed off a counter-attack but the Inter Milan man’s shot from outside of the box sailed over the cross-bar in the 13th minute.
Couple of minutes later, Andrej Kramaric then had his moment but he fired wide of the left post after being fed by Modric.
Croatia were mounting pressure with each passing time while Nigeria struggled to get into the box, let alone making a shot on goal.
Chelsea right winger Victor Moses was impressive but Croatia’s left-back Ivan Strinic, who plays for Italian club Sampdoria, controlled him well.
The first goal for Croatia resulted after Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo deflected in a diving header from Mandzukic at the left post into his own net following a corner kick from Luka Modric in the 32nd minute.
Till the first-half end, Nigeria failed to create anything and hardly looked like getting an equaliser.
At the beginning of the second-half, Nigeria tried to push for an equaliser. They earned multiple corners but Mandzukic and his teammates showed their hard work to deny the Africans.
Then off a quick switch of play, Modric played a through ball to Perisic on the left and the latter fired in a swinging cross inside the box but Croatian right winger Ante Rebic’s right foot put a heavy touch for the ball to fly over.
Later, Nigeria tried to infuse attacking firepower by throwing in attackers Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho. But Croatia were tight in their markings and cut down the spaces efficiently to keep Nigeria at bay.
The European team got its cushion goal in the 71st minute when William Ekong brought down Juventus star Mandzukic inside the box while defending a corner, leading to a penalty from which captain Luka Modric scored.
Afterwards, Croatia withdrew some of ther attackers to make it a heavy midfield and successfully defend their two-goal advantage for the convincing victory in the opening match. IANS