Croatia and Nigeria close out the first Saturday of the 2018 World Cup, when they meet in Kaliningrad in Group D in the fourth and final match of the day.
Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, Russian Federation
Key Stat: Nigeria have failed to win in their last four matches - scoring just two goals in that time.
Expert Verdict: In a game which could prove crucial when it comes to reaching the last-16, Croatia and Nigeria will play each other in Group D knowing the winner will be in pole position to qualify behind group favourites Argentina. After coming behind to beat Senegal in their final warm-up match, Croatia will be the more confident of the two; Nigeria, by contrast, are without a win in four.
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Croatia and Nigeria will face each other for the first time when they meet in Group D of the 2018 World Cup at the Kaliningrad Stadium. Scheduled to take place on June 16, the match kicks off at 9pm local time.
Sime Vrsaljko sat out of Croatia’s final World Cup warm-up match, in the only change from the team which lost to Brazil at Anfield. He and Ivan Strinic appear to be competing for the final place in the Croatia line-up as a result, with nine other players starting both matches. Andrej Kramaric’s goal against Senegal looks to have given him the edge over Mario Mandzukic for the striker’s place.
Luka Modric is at the World Cup fresh from another Champions League win, forming part of an attacking unit that also includes Ivan Perisic - who scored in the game against Senegal – and strikers Mario Mandzukic or Andrej Kramaric. Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic also forms part of the experienced midfield line-up.
Croatia Football team have won two of their four friendlies since qualifying for the World Cup with a play-off win against Greece. Since then, their two defeats have come against South American opposition – suffering 2-0 losses against Peru and Brazil. In between, they beat Mexico 1-0 and, most recently, came from behind thanks to Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric’s goals to beat Senegal 2-1.
Defenders:Sime Vrsaljko, Vedran Corluka, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida
Defensive Midfielders:Milan Badelj, Ivan Rakitic
Attacking Midfielders:Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic
Kelechi Iheanacho has not started either of Nigeria’s last two friendlies, with Odion Ighalo preferred to the Leicester City striker. They switched to three at the back against the Czech Republic, but tend to play with a flat back four as they did against England at Wembley. Victor Moses continues to play in a more advanced role for the national team than he does for Chelsea, meanwhile.
Alex Iwobi scored Nigeria’s goal against England at Wembley and the Arsenal man also netted twice when the Super Eagles came from 2-0 down to beat Argentina 4-2 in Krasnodar. Kelechi Iheanacho also scored in the win against Argentina, but has been on the bench for recent matches. Victor Moses seems to relish his more attacking role with Nigeria, having scored 11 times in 34 matches so far. Experience is provided by captain John Obi Mikel, meanwhile – the former Chelsea midfielder has 85 caps.
Nigeria team are without a win in four matches - five if you include the unofficial friendly against Atletico Madrid. Since beating Poland in Wroclaw thanks to Victor Moses’ penalty, Nigeria have lost 2-0 to Serbia and 3-2 in the aforementioned match against Atletico with a domestic-based team. The first official World Cup warm-up saw them draw 1-1 with DR Congo after William Troost-Ekong’s opener but back-to-back defeats have followed. Alex Iwobi’s second-half strike could not inspire a comeback at Wembley against England, while Tomas Kalas scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic last time out.
Defenders:Tyronne Ebuehi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Brian Idowu
Midfielders:Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi, John Obi Mikel
Forwards:Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo, Alex Iwobi
This will be Croatia and Nigeria’s first match against each other. Croatia have played African opposition during their World Cup warm-up matches, however, having beaten Senegal 2-1 in Osijek.
In a record stretching back to France ’98, Nigeria have only won one of their last 12 World Cup matches
Croatia’s record in that time is also poor – just two wins in nine World Cup matches since they reached the semi-finals in France
One of those Croatian wins did come against the only other African qualifier they have ever played at the World Cup though – a 4-0 win against Cameroon last time out.
Nigeria are heading to the World Cup on the back of a run of four games without a win – five if you include the unofficial friendly against Atletico Madrid.
Nigeria’s poor form in the run-up to Russia 2018 is in stark contrast to the optimism around the Super Eagles camp when they beat Argentina in Krasnodar in November.
They followed that up by beating Poland, but they have failed to record a win since – losing to the Czech Republic last time out.
Croatia, by contrast, have enjoyed an upturn in results since Zlatko Dalic took over, winning four and drawing one of his seven matches – only Peru and Brazil have defeated Croatia in that time.
They head to Russia on the back of a come-from-behind win against Senegal to keep morale high too, and go into this clash with Nigeria as favourites as a result.
Croatia have been consistent with their selections in recent matches too, unlike Nigeria who appear to not yet know what their best system and starting XI is.
It helps, of course, that while Nigeria feature several youthful players, Croatia are packed with experience. Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic make for an experienced core, and that’s before you consider the likes of Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren at the back.
With a fully fit squad, Croatia arrive at the World Cup in top shape and really have no excuses for not progressing through the group stage for the first time since 1998.
A win against Nigeria is much-needed in that regard, but they are favourites to do exactly that. They drew African opposition for the first time in the last World Cup and won 4-0 against Cameroon – and while it would be a surprise if this game was so comfortable, Croatia will still expect another three points.
Croatia are odds-on favourites to beat Nigeria, with Betfair and Betway offering the best price of 8/11 on Zlatko Dalic’s side to win.
Croatia have kept three clean sheets in seven matches since Dalic took over, meanwhile, and after Nigeria drew a blank against the Czech Republic, you can bet against both teams to score at 7/10 with Betfair. A Croatia win to nil is 6/4 with Bet365, Ladbrokes and Betway.
Andrej Kramaric’s goal in the win against Senegal was his fourth in seven games since Dalic took over, meanwhile. He is 11/5 with Betfair, 888sport and Paddy Power to score at any time on Saturday.
Interestingly, Croatia tend to score their goals in the second-half of matches. With that in mind, the draw/Croatia half-time/full-time combination is a best price of 37/10 with 888sport.
Croatia have improved under Zlatko Dalic, while Nigeria seem to be going backwards based on recent results. The Super Eagles have won just one if their last 12 World Cup matches, and that dismal record is likely to continue unless they show significant signs of improvement.