The Super Eagles’s 2018 World Cup campaign kicked off on an abysmal note as they were easily defeated by a more purposeful Croatian national team.
The Croatian side scored two unreplied goals against an uninspiring Nigerian team in either half of the game to head the Group D table.
Consequently Nigeria are bottom of the group after Argentina and Iceland played a one-all draw earlier yesterday.
Super Eagles’ troubles started after Stoke City’s new signing Oghenekaro Etebo scored an own goal.
Midfielder Etebo, who joined Stoke City for €7.2million on Monday, turned a Modric corner into his own net after Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic both flicked the ball on.
Nigeria had also conceded an own goal at 2014 World Cup when former Eagles’ defender Joseph Yobo accidentally scored against the team in a game against France during the second round stage of the tournament.
And when William Troost-Ekong fouled Mandzukic in the box, Captain Modric coolly converted the 71st-minute penalty to give Croatia a winning start on their fifth appearance at the finals.
Croatia had the better of a close contest that was light on chances in Kaliningrad, with Mandzukic’s aerial power causing plenty of problems for Nigeria, who have the youngest squad at the World Cup.
Gernot Rohr’s men were unable to create a clear opportunity of their own. After a cagey opening, Perisic fired Croatia’s first shot in the 13th minute, narrowly clearing the crossbar after Mandzukic’s strength created the opportunity to shoot.
More solid hold-up play from Mandzukic fed Ante Rebic, whose effort was deflected wide, with Croatia scoring the opening goal from the resulting set-piece in the 32nd minute.
Perisic and Mandzukic both got a touch on a right-wing Modric corner but the crucial contact came at the back post from Etebo, who could only divert the ball past teenage goalkeeper Francis Uzoho.
Alex Iwobi was proving a lively presence in attack for Nigeria but after wriggling into space on the left side of the box, he hit a shot directly into a Croatia defender.
Rebic should have doubled Croatia’s lead, firing over from Perisic’s perfect left-wing centre, with Odion Ighalo’s tame header recording the match’s first shot on target in the 59th minute.
Nigeria’s lack of quality in the final third was evident and after Troost-Ekong was penalised for holding Mandzukic in the penalty area, Modric sent Uzoho the wrong way from 12 yards for his first World Cup goal.
A fightback from the Super Eagles never looked likely, Danijel Subasic given a comfortable outing in the Croatia goal with Kelechi Iheanacho and Etebo missing chances to register.
Croatia next face Messi’s men on Thursday, while Nigeria are in action the following day against World Cup debutants Iceland.
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