Published: Sun, June 17, 2018
Sports | By Brett Lawson

Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 with own goal and penalty

Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 with own goal and penalty

Sadly, in the Super Eagles of Nigeria's first match in the 2018 World Cup, against Croatia, they did not soar.

In Russia's sleepy European exclave of Kaliningrad - perhaps best known for its nuclear missile sites - the much-hyped youngsters of Nigeria struggled to ignite against Croatia's midfield technicians.

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.

The opening Group D match pits midfielder John Obi Mikel and the young lineup against a Croatia team powered by one of the tournament's strongest and most experienced midfields: Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic of Real Madrid, alongside Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona.

"I participated in a UNESCO action against discrimination and we are all assured that there will not be any problems for the Nigerian players", Rohr said.

Just three days into the World Cup, the scrappy goal added to what is becoming a pattern, following a Moroccan own goal that handed victory to Iran on Friday and a deflected Paul Pogba effort that earned France a 2-1 win over Australia earlier on Saturday.

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"This first match is very important, it will set the tone for the rest of our tournament", Dalic said. Mandzukic dives to meet a right-wing corner, but his header comes off Etebo and flies into the bottom corner.

Nigeria have won only one of their last 13 games at the World Cup. "After the first goal we started creating chances".

Nigeria came close to drawing level but Iwobi's strike was blocked by the Croats defenders as they led by a lone goal at half time.

But just as Nigeria showed some signs of life, in the 71st minute William Ekong held down Mandzukic from a cross in the area and referee Sandro Ricci immediately pointed to the spot.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr also dismissed worries players could be targeted by supporters at the World Cup.

Andrei Ermak, minister of culture in Kaliningrad, told Russia's Interfax news agency that "fans from Nigeria asked if it's possible to go to the stadium with a chicken, it's their symbol, [and they take] them to matches".

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