MX23RW : Tuesday, March 26 17:24:53
Jun 16, 2018 at 8pm UK at ​Kaliningrad Stadium
Attendance: 31,136
Etebo (32' og.), Modric (72' pen.)
FT(HT: 1-0)

Live Commentary: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria - as it happened

Relive Sports Mole's coverage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia as Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 in Group D at the newly-built Kaliningrad Stadium.
Live Commentary: Croatia 2-0 Nigeria - as it happened
© Reuters

Croatia kicked off their 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia by taking on Nigeria in Group D at the Kaliningrad Stadium.

An efficient first-half showing from Zlatko Dalic's men was capped off when an own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo handed Croatia a 1-0 half-time lead.

The Super Eagles offered very little in search of a leveller and Croatia comfortably secured three points in the second half, as Luka Modric converted from the penalty spot to seal a functional 2-0 victory.

Relive all of the action with our minute-by-minute updates below.

7.00pmGood evening everyone and thanks for joining us as we bring you live coverage as Croatia and Nigeria kick their respective 2018 World Cup campaigns off in Group D at the Kaliningrad Stadium.

7.01pmEarlier this afternoon group favourites Argentina were held to a shock 1-1 draw by newcomers Iceland, leaving the winner of this match with the opportunity to steal a surprise march in a group that is an incredibly tough one to call.

7.02pmCROATIA STARTING XI: Subasic; Vrsaljko, Strinic, Lovren, Vida; Rakitic, Modric; Perisic; Kramaric, Rebic; Mandzukic

7.04pmNIGERIA STARTING XI: Uzoho; Abdullahi, Ekong, Balogun, Idowu; Etebo, Ndidi; Mikel, Iwobi, Moses; Ighalo

7.03pmCROATIA SUBSTITUTES: Livakovic, Corluka, Kovacic, Brozovic, Kalinic, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, N. Kalinic, Badelj, Pjaca, Pivaric

7.04pmNIGERIA SUBSTITUTES: Ezenwa, Akpeyi, Ebuehi, Musa, Ogu, Nwankwo, Onazi, Omeruo, Awaziem, Iheanacho, Echiejile, Obi

7.05pmThe major news for Croatia then is that Dalic seems to be opting for a rather attacking formation that uses a trio of Andrej Kramaric, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic potentially behind lone striker Mario Mandzukic.

7.06pmThat potentially means that Luka Madric may start a little deeper in midfield than expected, sitting alongside Barcelona playmaker Ivan Rakitic in the centre of the pitch depending on which system Dalic goes with.

7.07pmAs for Nigeria, the African nation have opted for a more clearcut 4-2-3-1 system that sees Odion Ighalo leading the line as a sole striker. Further support is to come from an attacking midfield three of Alex Iwobi, John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses.

7.09pmBoth Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo have been tasked with holding the centre as two midfield pivots, potentially allowing full-backs Shehu Abdullahi and Brian Idowu to get forward when necessary.

7.11pmLooking ahead to the contest, Croatia's progress towards Russia was not without problems, as new coach Zlatko Dalic was brought in as boss in October 2017 with qualification still to be secured.

7.13pmDalic's men had to win their final qualification fixture against Ukraine, which then earned them a crucial playoff spot against Greece. A big gamble for the Croatian FA perhaps, but the decision to sack Ante Cacic eventually proved dividends for the country.

7.15pmDuring that qualification run, Croatia came up against current Group D rivals Iceland, who they both lost and beat during their two meetings. Croatia came second in that group with Iceland claiming the only automatic qualification spot.

7.17pmIn the end, Dalic and company proved too much for Greece as they were able to secure a commanding 4-1 aggregate win over two legs back in November of 2017.

7.19pmComing into the group stages of the showpiece in Russia, Croatia have won just one of their last seven World Cup fixtures, having beaten Cameroon 4-0 in Brazil four years ago. Croatia drew and lost four of the other contests.

7.21pmThe country, operating as an independent footballing nation since France 1998, have lost their opening group game in each of their last three World Cups. Croatia have kept just two clean sheets in their last 11 games too.

7.23pmOne man who proved crucial for Croatia four years ago in Brazil was the talented winger Perisic. The Inter Milan wide-man was directly involved in half of Croatia's goals that tournament, scoring two and assisting for another.

7.25pmIn the four FIFA-registered friendlies in the run-up to Russia, Croatia have had mixed results. Dalic's men recorded an impressive 1-0 win away in Mexico, but that was sandwiched between losses away to both Peru and Brazil. The country's last friendly outing saw Croatia beat Senegal 2-1 in the city of Osijek.

7.27pmHere's a quick glimpse of the Croatia stars arriving at the stadium a little earlier this evening:

7.29pmNigeria have now qualified for their sixth World Cup. The country has only missed one tournament in 2006 since first taking part in the showpiece in 1994. Fast forward back to 2018 and Nigeria also arguably boast one of the most splendid kits ever seen in international football.

7.31pmReaching Russia this year means that Nigeria are now the African nation with the most appearances competing for the Jules Rimet.

7.33pmThe country has won only one of their last 12 games at the World Cup. That last victory came courtesy of a 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Brazil in 2014 when they came second in their group before being eliminated in the last 16.

7.35pmCoach Gernot Rohr has been in charge of Nigeria since 2016 and this will be his first World Cup as an international manager. Rohr also has experience leading Gabon, Burkina Faso and Niger in the past.

7.37pmRohr will be hoping that his side can muster similar levels of energy to those showcased in Brazil. In 2014 skipper John Obi Mikel proved one of the standouts as Nigeria reached the knockout stages for the first time since 1998.

7.39pmWhat has been most impressive for Nigeria has been the youthful energy in their squad. A main bulk of young heads have been crucial in the country's qualification for the tournament. On the opening day of the World Cup last Thursday, Nigeria had the youngest average age of any squad competing this year at 25 years and 336 days.

7.41pmQualification was an exciting time for many of those young players. Nigeria booked qualification for Russia last October with a 1-0 win over Zambia that established a telling advantage over the chasers in their group. That achievement was rather remarkable given that they faced competition from Algeria and continental champions Cameroon.

7.43pmAfter qualifying, Nigeria came unstuck in the African Nations Championship final when they were demolished 4-0 by fellow World Cup participants Morocco. A month later in March of this year, the Super Eagles got back on track with a promising 1-0 friendly win away in Poland.

7.44pmSince then, however, Nigeria's subsequent four friendlies contests have seen the country lose three and draw one, including defeats to Serbia, England and the Czech Republic.

7.45pmOne player to watch out for is 19-year-old keeper Francis Uzoho, who has been forced to take up the reins since Vincent Enyeama's retirement and Carl Ikeme's leukaemia diagnosis. The pressure will certainly be on the youngster, but what a wonderful experience to feature at a World Cup at such a young age.

7.46pmOverall Nigeria have played 18 World Cup matches, winning five, drawing three and losing 10 while scoring 20 goals and conceding 26.

7.47pmGiven that Iceland held Argentina to a remarkable 1-1 draw early this afternoon, bagging three points tonight would allow the victor to steal a surprise march in a group that has been perceived as one of the toughest to call out of them all this year.

7.49pmTonight's game represents the first encounter between Croatia and Nigeria. Croatia's only previous World Cup game against African opposition saw them defeat Cameroon 4-0 in Brazil four years ago.

7.51pmAs for Nigeria, the African nation have won just one of their last six World Cup matches against European sides...

7.53pmPREDICTION! Not long until kickoff now and it is time for a prediction. Nigeria's young squad poses plenty of questions for Croatia going forward, although looking throughout this Croatian squad you have to feel that the amount of top-level European experience should be enough to get Dalic's men over the line. I'm backing Croatia to top the group by the end of tonight by sealing a 2-1 victory.

7.55pmArsenal's Iwobi will be one to watch going forward for Nigeria. He told FIFA TV a little about his expectations for tonight's contest:

7.56pmThe players are now making their way out onto the pitch and we will be underway very shortly after the respective national anthems...

7.58pmBefore we get going, here is a quick recap of the starting XIs.

CROATIA STARTING XI (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Strinic, Lovren, Vida; Rakitic, Modric; Perisic, Kramaric, Rebic; Mandzukic

NIGERIA STARTING XI (4-2-3-1): Uzoho; Abdullahi, Ekong, Balogun, Idowu; Etebo, Ndidi; Mikel, Iwobi, Moses; Ighalo

1 minKICKOFF! Here we go then, Nigeria get things moving in Kaliningrad...

2 minNigeria get an early chance to put a teasing ball into the box from a Moses free kick, but Lovren rises highest to head clear under pressure from Iwobi.

3 minThe Super Eagles appear to have settled comfortably, but Perisic gives them a wake-up call as he scampers away on the break down the left channel. The winger turns a ball into the middle towards Mandzukic, although Troost-Ekong is able to clear.

5 minSome gaps are already starting to appear in the middle of the park and both Rakitic and Modric are looking to get on the ball just inside the Nigeria half. Nigeria are showing plenty of energy, but Croatia have held more of the positive possession.

7 minCroatia appear happy to take a good look at this Nigeria side as they move possession across the pitch. No real attacking intent from either side thus far as they seem to be sizing each other up.

8 minRakitic is brilliant at this. Perisic drifts off his marker on the left flank, leaving the Barca playmaker to pick out the winger with a huge, raking ball out wide. Shehu does well to steer the ball away for a corner, though. Croatia cannot make anything of the set-piece as Balogun swings clear in the box.

10 minJeers ring out around the ground as Croatia step off the gas and allow Nigeria to move the ball slickly across the deck. Around 80% of fans in this stadium are from Croatia this evening. Nigeria do not look too perturbed, however. Not the most exciting of starts, but an intriguing one nonetheless.

12 minNigeria claim a free kick just inside the Croatia half and the Eagles look to bypass the build-up play by sending a long ball into the box from Moses. Croatia stand firm, though, as Vida heads clear.

14 minCHANCE! This is lovely stuff from Croatia. Modric drives in off the left flank before feeding a ball into Rebic. The frontman stops the pass dead on the edge of the box, allowing Perisic to drive onto the set ball. The Inter Milan man opens up to lash a testing shot that flies just inches over the crossbar.

16 minNigeria will need to be wary of this. The Eagles sit back and give Kramaric time on the ball, allowing the striker to wind up from distance and drive a shot down low just wide of Uzoho's near post.

18 minPoor from Modric this time as Croatia get the chance to send in another corner. The ball does not evade Shehu at the front post and Nigeria are able to clear with relative ease.

20 minKramaric is beginning to tick now as he turns and drives at the Nigeria defence, before being brought down by Balogun on the edge of the area. Modric sends the free kick towards the back post, where Uzoho comes coolly off his line to gather and thwart the danger.

22 minNigeria move forward with a rare counter down the right channel. Iwobi cuts inside into the box before seeing his shot blocked by Vrsaljko. The resulting corner soon sees a loose ball fed into Etebo, but he can only send a wild effort wide of the target from range.

24 minGlimmers of Croatian quality are just starting to cut through. Rebic does brilliantly down in the right corner to get the better of Idowu with some clever feet, however the resulting cross into the mixer is a tame one leaving Troost-Ekong to clear.

26 minSo far, so good then for Nigeria who seem happy to wait for the counter. Croatia have enjoyed most of the possession in the opening period but have been able to do very little with it. If the Europeans are to take the lead it might just come through an individual moment of brilliance.

28 minA straight ball is driven into the feet of Mandzukic, who is unable to bring the pass under control and bring his teammates into play. The forward has been rather quiet thus far.

30 minRebic has been promising. This time the winger peels cleverly off the back of Idowu to get the better of the full-back. The youngster then gets his head up to cross but his final ball is unable to provide for the limited options in the middle.

31 minYELLOW CARD! First one of the game then as Rakitic flies into Moses after losing the ball cheaply. At times the playmaker is looking a tad frustrated at the lack of movement in front of him.


32 minThis has to hurt for the Nigerians. Croatia send a corner into the middle of the box where Manduzkic is able to get a head onto the cross. The effort looks to be flying wide of the far post, but it soon cannons into Etebo and past a helpless Uzoho. This game needed a goal although that was a tough one to take for the African side.

34 minCroatia have at times threatened but they are fortunate to go in front. Dalic's men have responded by taking possession and knocking the ball around the back as they try to consolidate the lead.

36 minNigeria have so far suffered from a link between midfield and attack. Ighalo is fighting valiantly for whatever is thrown forward, but a lack of support is seeing the ball come straight back at them.

38 minKramaric has been the real spark so far for the Croatians. This time the forward shows some skill on the right to beat Ndidi, although the eventual cross into the box is headed away at the first time of asking by Balogun.

40 minCHANCE! Nigeria step off just a little too easily and Modric is left free to whip a cross into the box. It's Kramaric who gets his head onto it in the middle of the area, but his deft header goes flying over the bar with Uzoho looking worried.

42 minCroatia have put together the best part of 225 passes in this first period and that perhaps gives you some indiction of their possessional dominance. Perisic does brilliantly this time to head down for Mandzukic, who then lays it off for Vrsaljko who is breaking forward from right-back. The Atletico Madrid man's shot is a poor one though, as the effort goes flashing wide of the target.

44 minMoses shows great feet on the right and he is able to buy a timely free kick off Rebic, leaving Nigeria with a free kick in a promising position...

45 minCLOSE! The Chelsea man sends the ball in where it is soon cleared into the path of Iwobi on the edge of the area. The winger puts his laces through it only to see Lovren pull off a rather special block to protect Subasic from being tested.


8.49pmCroatia have the lead then in rather fortuitous circumstances, but Dalic's men just about deserve it having dominated much of the opening half. Nigeria have offered very little going forward and Croatia have been far too comfortable at the back.

8.58pmNigeria will need to give so much more in the second period. The Eagles played that first period like a friendly match. Croatia will only get better as this game wears on too.

8.59pmIt's hardly a personnel issues for Nigeria at the moment either. The Greens just need to act with a little more energy and aggression. The first period was far too passive for a World Cup contest. Croatia have not been tested once at the back as yet.

9.02pmThe players are now making their way back out onto the pitch. We will be underway again shortly...

46 minSECOND HALF! Croatia start the second half with a 1-0 lead. Nigeria need to improve quickly, but will they?

47 minA bright start sees Nigeria scamper forward to win a corner. The set-piece is sent towards the front post for Balogun, leaving Perisic to make a vital challenge and prevent the defender from having a free header at goal.

49 minThere's certainly more energy from the Eagles early on. Moses breaks off the right to collect Etebo's cunning pass, but the winger drags his shot wide of the near post without testing Subasic.

50 minCroatia make their first foray forward in the second period and the ball is soon cleared to Rakitic, who picks up possession around 35 yards out from goal. The playmaker opts for something special, although his shot is always rising and flies over the bar.

52 minThis is more like it! Iwobi races down the outside left to pick up a threaded ball from Ndidi and he then shows great footwork to beat his marker. Fortunately for Croatia, Lovren is there to block his shot in front of goal.

54 minCentral to this slight upturn for the Greens is Ndidi breaking forward into space a little more often. This time his movement releases Moses down the right wing, whose cross soon wins Nigeria another corner. The resulting ball comes to nothing, however, as Croatia clear at the far post.

55 minMISS! Croatia should double the lead... Perisic crafts the most wonderful cross from the left flank to find Rebic in the middle of the box. The striker opens up to send a finish beyond Uzoho, before seeing his effort somehow fly over the bar. That was a borderline sitter for the youngster.

57 minThat just goes to show the glimmers of quality nesting in this Croatian side that can kill the game in an instant. Nigeria have improved already in the second half, but Dalic's men have the ability to conjure game-changing chances out of seemingly sterile conditions.

59 minLeft-back Idowu is given too much space on the wing and the Nigerian sends a smart ball into the box. Ighalo wins it but the effort flies straight into the grasp of Subasic.

60 minSUBSTITUTION: It's Croatia who make the first change as forward Kramaric is replaced by Inter Milan creative midfielder Marcelo Brozovic.

62 minSUBSTITUTION: Nigeria make a change too. Iwobi is swapped out for Leicester City forward Ahmed Musa.

64 minVery little happening in open play at the moment, although another corner soon sees Mandzukic climb highest to send a header over the goal frame.

66 minCroatia appear caught in two minds at the moment. This game has been there for the taking since the one-goal lead was achieved, but thus far Dalic's men have sat off for much of the second half.

68 minNigeria are still in this as long as Croatia continue to show such little ambition going forward...



71 minAbsolute madness from Nigeria and this just about sums up a confusing showing from the Eagles. A cross comes into the box and for some unknown reason Troost-Ekong decides to wrap Mandzukic up in a full-nelson hold. The referee spots it with ease and signals straight for a penalty. Modric steps up to send the keeper the wrong way and essentially seal three points for Dalic's side.

73 minCroatia are two up and they have done very little to break down Nigeria tonight. Iceland and Argentina will not be this forgiving you have to think when they meet later in the group.

75 minCroatia are simply walking to the finish line now as they knock the ball about inside their own half. Nigeria have been totally missing when you take into account this 70-odd minute showing.

77 minSUBSTITUTION: Here comes another change from Croatia, promising midfielder Mateo Kovacic takes the place of Rebic.

79 minQuick feet from Rakitic allows the playmaker to break through the Nigeria ranks before being brought down 30 yards out from goal. The resulting free kick is easily gathered by Uzoho, though.

81 minThe substitutions have all but killed the game now. Nigeria look disjointed, while Croatia are more than happy to slow the tempo down as much as is humanly possible in this sport.

83 minGreater tests clearly await Croatia and it has been rather strange how they have been able to secure three points here without really moving out of second gear. Iceland might still fancy themselves after picking up that standout point against Argentina earlier today.

86 minNigeria are finally starting to show some of that energy from the early stages of the half, but is has come about 25 minutes too late. Croatia are sitting deep without too many issues now.

88 minClever from Modric as he shows quick feet to buy a cheap free kick off a retreating Ndidi. That is just taking more time out of the game.

90 minWe are going to have four minutes of additional time here...

90+2 minThis game is meandering towards the inevitable. Nigeria have been shocking. They have been far, far removed from international standards tonight. It's been totally underwhelming from the Super Eagles.


9.59pmThe outcome of this contest was largely predictable since that penalty was converted. Nigeria could well have got something from the contest had they shown the slightest bit of endeavour. Croatia picked them up when necessary and have come away with a functional win that takes them top of Group D, ahead of Argentina, Iceland and the Super Eagles. That is going to be all from me tonight, thanks for joining us!

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The Croatian team line up ahead of their international friendly with Brazil at Anfield on June 3, 2018
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