By: Jason Green
Date: Saturday June 16th
Time: 8:00 PM
Match Odds: Croatia -145 / Nigeria +425 / Draw +260
Over/Under: 2.5 goals
This Group D match up is the first match for both Croatia and Nigeria and while the first match it may be a must win. The reason is that Argentina is also in the group and the losing team of this match will have a major uphill battle advancing to the knockout stage.
Many of the Croats problems in the last few years has been off the pitch with allegations of bribes for players as well as team administrators. However, they have the talent on the pitch to make a solid World Cup run and in their history they are no stranger to beating powerhouse teams.
Nigeria comes into the World Cup after a very impressive run in their African World Cup qualification winning the Group of Death that featured Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia. The Super Eagles then beat Argentina and Poland in a couple of friendlies, but they then lost three and drew one of their last Four World Cup tune-up matches where they only totaled two goals.
Croatia has a great midfield that is led by two stars in Real Madrid’s LUka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. In their 4-2-31 formation Mario Mandzukic will be up front and backed up by Ivan Perisic and Andej Kramaric. The team’s best player is Modric and the midfielder has shown to be one of the best in the world, especially setting up the attack.
This will be the first ever meeting between these two teams.
Nigeria has a couple of very solid veterans in MF John Obi Mikel, Chelsea’s Victor Mose, and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. Mikel now plays in China, but spent most of his career in the English Premier League. His play in the midfield will be important and keeping Modric from making plays in that area of the pitch will be key for the Super Eagles.
One concern for Nigeria is in goal, as Vincent Enyeama retired, Carl Ikeme is out after being diagnosed with leukemia and it looks as if 19-year old Francis Uzoho, who plays in LA Liga in Spain, will be the man between the sticks. If the Croats can rattle the youngster they will be in great shape, which is why there is a lot of pressure on Nigeria’s back line.
The stage is set for the Croats to get off to a good start and that all starts with Modric. If he excels and finds space in the middle of the field he is dangerous since he is such a good playmaker.
Last Three Matches
3/28/18 Mexico 0 Croatia 1 (Friendly)
6/3/18 Brazil 2 Croatia 0 (Friendly)
6/8/18 Croatia 2 Senegal 0 (Friendly)
5/28/18 Nigeria 1 Congo DR 1 (Friendly)
6/2/18 England 2 Nigeria 1 (Friendly)
6/6/18 Nigeria 0 Czech Republic 1 (Friendly)
Prediction: Nigeria will play better than they have in recent friendly matches, but it still will not mater. Modric and company will play well in the midfield and the Croats will have many chances to score. They will not keep a clean sheet, but Croatia will win this opening group match 2-1 taking the all-important three points still having to face Argentina.