Etebo own-goal, Modric penalty settle tight clash

Arnold Nichols
June 17, 2018

Oghenekaro Etebo was helpless in deflecting the ball into his own net in the 32nd minute and a second half spot-kick from Real Madrid star Modric sealed the points. Modric called the new coach "phenomenal" as he helped book Croatia's World Cup ticket.

Croatia finished a brilliant third in their debut World Cup at France 98 but have since failed to progress past the group stage.

Croatia should have doubled their lead in the 56th minute, when Ivan Perisic whipped the ball across the Nigeria penalty area from the left channel, only for Eintracht Frankfurt winger Ante Rebic to send his close-range volley wide. It was the fifth penalty awarded in four World Cup matches on Saturday.

Until then, Croatia and Nigeria had appeared evenly balanced, with the African side's goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa untroubled by powerful but long-range shots from Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric - the first going over the bar and the second finishing wide.

Rebic worked hard and looked risky, Modric and Rakitic worked well together in midfield and the back four, especially Lovren and Vida, were excellent.

Nigeria: Uzoho 7, Idowu 6, Ndidi 6, Ekong 6, Balogun 6, Etebo 6, Ighalo 6, Mikel 7, Moses 7, Shehu 6, Iwobi 6. Mandzukic dives to meet a right-wing corner, but his header comes off Etebo and flies into the bottom corner.

Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic (L) vies with Nigeria's midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo during the Russian Federation 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Croatia and Nigeria at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 16, 2018. Modric steps up and coolly fires a low penalty into the left-hand corner he is facing.

Neither side attempted a single shot on target in the first half.

"It's a disappointing result and performance, and we only had one effort on goal which was a looping header".

But Odemwingie, who represented Nigeria at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, said he could understand the team selection from the beginning of the game, but expected it to change at 1-0.

The last time Croatia won their opening group game was back in 1998, and coach Zlatko Dalic said he was glad the squad had put that unfortunate record behind them.

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