Nigeria’s young side were handed a proper footballing handout by Croatia in a largely one-sided World Cup contest in Kaliningrad on Saturday night.
Ogenekaro Etebo, ironically one of the best players in Nigeria’s team on the night put through his own goal in the first half before Luka Modric converted a penalty for Croatia midway through the second half to down Nigeria 2-0 in their opening Group D game.
Much of the team news was dominated by Brighton and Hove Albion defender, Leon Balogun’s late inclusion after passing a fitness test on the dawn of match day.
After a string of midfield battles, Croatia served Nigeria the first real warning in the fourteenth minute when Ivan Perisic fired over after he was teed up by the impressive Mario Mandzukic.
The Europeans who enjoyed enormous support in the 35,000 capacity arena went into the lead in the 32nd minute through the route that has given Nigeria sleepless nights all through preparations – dead ball. Modric’s corner kick was flicked by Andrej Kramaric to the path of Mandzukic whose diving header ricocheted off Etebo and into the net.
Nigeria failed to produce any response of some sort and their only notable attempt in the half was a halfhearted volley by Etebo which rolled poorly wide. The Croats headed into the break with the lead and their Nigerian opponents looked clueless.
Former African champions Nigerians threw more into the second half in terms of effort although they still lacked cutting edge in the final third.
Croatia then killed off the game ninenteen minutes from time when William Troost-Ekong fouled Mandzukic during a corner kick defending. The Bursaspor man wrapping his arms around the Juventus striker like a new groom to his bride during their wedding reception.
Real Madrid star Modric duly obliged from the spot, sending Nigeria’s teenage goalkeeper Odinaka Uzoho the wrong direction towards attaining global reckoning.
Croatia are now top of Group D and will face Argentina in their next group game on June 21 while Nigeria face Iceland in Volgograd the following day.