Croatia vs Nigeria – Saturday, June 16, 20:00BST/21:00CEST/22:00 MSK – Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, Russia
While Argentina and Iceland will open Group D earlier on Saturday Croatia and Nigeria will represent the top match in the group on the first matchday. Both sides will be looking for an early advantage in this group of death that could see any of the four teams eliminated when the dust settles.
In terms, of depth, Croatia are perhaps the strongest team in this group. But fans of the Vatreni will point out that despite the immense squad depth Croatia struggle with complacency and head coach Zlatko Dalić is often pointed out at lacking the tactical understanding when it comes to forging a bunch of superstars into a cohesive unit.
Nonetheless, Croatia are a side to watch at this tournament. With world class players in every part of the side, the Vatreni could do some damage even to top teams like Argentina.
Nigeria, on the other hand, will also be a significant force. The Super Eagles will now play their fourth tournament in a row and after reaching the round of 16 four years ago will hope to make it one step further this time around. Placed into Group D, however, could be a significant factor.
Some might even draw parallels to the Ivory Coast, who in 2006 were seen by many as a potential underdog. In a group with the Netherlands, Argentina and Serbia and Montenegro at the time the Ivory Coast fell short of expectations, however, and this is a fate that could now also befall Nigeria as they face top sides from Europe and South America.
This first game will set the tone for both sides. Nigeria need to get the three points to stand a fighting chance, and Croatia will need to get a positive result to avoid falling apart. In many ways, Croatia seems to be the more likely to achieve their objective, but this game has the potential for an upset.
Croatia vs Nigeria – Players to look out for:
Luka Modrić #10 – Croatia (Real Madrid)
Luka Modrić won his fourth Champions League title with Real Madrid in May. The central midfielder very much acts like a metronome in a midfield stacked with talent. Modrić can speed up, or slow down, the game to get an advantage for his side. Dalić has recently experimented with playing him further up the field, to ensure that Modrić can focus on the attacking play rather than defensive work. It will be interesting to see how that decision will impact Croatia’s play overall.
Ahmed Musa #7 – Nigeria (CSKA Moscow)
Ahmed Musa will be the most experienced Nigerian on the field when it comes to playing in Russia. Musa returned to CSKA Moscow this winter after an 18-month to forget with former English champions Leicester City. Back in Russia Musa helped CSKA Moscow to finish second in the Russian Football Premier League by scoring six goals in ten RFPL games.
Croatia vs Nigeria – Match Stats
- The two countries have never faced one another.
- Croatia managed to qualify for the last five World Cups, but after reaching a third-place in 1998 Croatia have failed to qualify out of the group stage in the last three tournaments.
- Croatia have collected five red cards in the last four games.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Croatia vs Nigeria – 3-1
Croatia vs Nigeria – Lineups
Subasić – Strinić, Lovren, Ćorluka, Vrsaljko – Rakitić, Badelj – Perišić, Modrić, Kramarić – Mandžukić
Head Coach: Zlatko Dalić
Akpeyi – Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Ogu – Bryan Idowu, Mikel, Iwobi, Ndidi, Moses – Musa, Iheanacho
Head Coach: Gernot Rohr
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.