While Argentina and Iceland will open Group D, 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.
Nigeria head into this game in poor form having drawn to DR Congo and lost to England and the Czech Republic in their warm-up games. However, coach Gernot Rohr is unperturbed.
“We are okay with the garb of the underdog. But the defeats have done something for us. We have our heads firmly on our shoulders and we are focused,” he said, according to the Daily Post.
Croatia beat Senegal 2-1 in their last game, but coach Zlatko Dalic has been quoted by the same publication as claiming that they will need a full-strength side to see off Nigeria.
“I will give the opportunity to the best, neither young nor old, the best. Senegal has shown us all we have to fix some things. There is no reason to fear,” he said.
Modric is expected to play higher up the pitch than he usually does for Real Madrid, providing support for either Mario Mandzukic or Andrej Kramaric. The former is expected to start up front ahead of the versatile 26-year-old.
Whichever attacking options Croatia decide to utilise, 19-year-old goalkeeper Francis Uzoho has a massive task on his hands. The youngster has become Nigeria’s best option in between the sticks following Vincent Enyeama’s retirement and Carl Ikeme’s leukaemia diagnosis.
Prediction : Croatia 🇭🇷 1 vsNigeria 2
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