Croatia’s golden generation started their World Cup campaign brilliantly, leading Group D with a 2-0 victory against Nigeria on Saturday.
Featuring four forwards in the line-up, Croatia manifested nothing but ambitions to win their opening match, after witnessing an unexpected draw of Argentina against Iceland earlier in the afternoon.
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Ranked higher than their opponents though, the Croats, carrying expectations and also pressure, spent almost 30 minutes to find the rhythm.
At the 32nd minute, Luka Modric’s corner kick volleyed by Ante Rebic, culminated in Mario Mandzukic’s diving header. The off-target shot was deflected by Oghenekaro Etebo into his own gaol.
The goal gave the Vatreni confidence and helped them gain the momentum gradually. Nigeria, the youngest team of the tournament only struggled to equalize the game with sporadic efforts.
After switching sides, Croatia continued to control the game thanks to their talented midfield dual – captain Modric and Barcelona’s midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
At the 71st minute, Mandzukic was wrestled down in the penalty by William Ekong, and Croatia’s captain did not waste the chance to double the lead.
“It’s a great start for Croatia, we deserved to win. Nigeria played well, but we were better,” said Modric after the match. “I believe we will continue the journey as we planed,” added the Real Madrid’s midfielder.
“We will learn from the mistakes we made today, and look forward to the game against Iceland,” Victor Moses told reporters.
“We’re a young team, we’re learning and I hope in the next game against Iceland we will do much better,” said Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr.
Croatia are leading Group D after the first round, followed by Iceland and Argentina, both of which collected only one point each from a 1-1 draw.
Croatia will play group favorites Argentina on June 21, and Nigeria are to take on Iceland the next day.