A Luka Modric penalty doubled Croatia's lead against Nigeria in Kaliningrad, sending the Croats top of Group D. Eintracht Frankfurt's Ante Rebic and Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric both impressed for Croatia.
Croatia 2-0 Nigeria
(Etebo o.g. 33', Modric pen 71')
Croatia, with Bundesliga stars Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric, went top of Group D following a deserved 2-0 win over Nigeria.
Th Croatians started the match well and controlled the first 15 minutes, former Wolfsburg winger Ivan Perisic with the best chance as he took a shot from inside the box, but the bell went just above the Nigeria goal.
The opener came in the 32rd minute as a corner met the head of Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, and the ball ricoched off the legs of Nigeria’s Oghenekaro Etebo. The deflection went straight in to make it 1-0 at halftime.
In the second half, a Victor Moses corner met the head of Leon Balogun straight after the break, but the Mainz defender was off target. Four minutes later it was Moses himself who almost equalized as the Chelsea man dribbled into the box, but his shot was just wide of the mark.
Nigeria continued to try and score the equalizing goal as Watford’s Odion Ighalo headed the ball from inside the box after a great cross in the 58th minute, but Croatia’s goalkeeper Subasic easily claimed it.
Despite Nigeria’s best efforts, it was Croatia who got the second in the 71st minute. The referee awarded a penalty after Mario Mandzukic was held in the box by Ekong following a corner. Real Madrid’s Luka Modric calmly sent the keeper the wrong way.
Croatia looked likely to get a third but Nigeria tried to find a way back into the game. Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho had a chance to score Nigeria’s first in the 77th minute after a brilliant pass by John Obi Mikel, but the striker was off target.
The last ten minutes were smooth sailing for Croatia, who sealed an important win.
As it happened:
+++ FULL TIME! Croatia 2-0 Nigeria +++
90' Four minutes of added time ...
87' Nigeria are still pushing for a late goal. Moses turns and shoots in the box but it's blocked and Croatia clear.
79' Perisic sends in a dangerous cross from the left which substitute Mateo Kovacic, on for the impressive Rebic, just can't connect with.
77' Kelechi Iheanacho, on for Ighalo, is immediately involved for Nigeria, swivelling and shooting wide.
76' Rebic twists and turns and twists and turns again on the left wing but then gives the ball away. Always think the Frankfurt man is more dangerous when he doesn't over-complicate things.
75' Modrid and Rakitic linking up more dangerously on the right hand side now since being pushed further forward. Over on the Croatian left however, Perisic is having a quieter evening.
71' GOAL! Croatia 2-0 Nigeria (Modric - pen)
Never in doubt! Modric sends Uzoho the wrong way and places it into the bottom corner.
70' PENALTY FOR CROATIA
From Modric's corner, Troost-Ekong is grappling all over Mandzukic, dragging him to the floor, and the referee points to the spot! Good decision!
66' Nigerian claims for a penalty as Moses goes to ground following Mikel's throughball, but the Chelsea man has fallen far too easily and the referee waves his appeals away.
62' And a change for Nigeria too, as Arsenal's Alex Iwobi is replaced by Ahmed Musa, who plays his football in Russia with CSKA Moscow.
60' Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric is replaced by Inter Milan midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, allowing Luka Modric to advance further forward. Will we see more from the little Real Madrid genius now?
56' Great cross! Rakitic finds Perisic on the Croatian left with a pin-point first-time ball and Perisic's cross is a dangerous one which Rebic volley over from close range. Lovely move, although the referee blows for offside against Perisic from Rakitic's ball.
54' Nigeria win another corner as they increasingly look to attack down the right wing ... Moses sends it deep this time, but too deep.
50' A rocket from Rakitic! But the Barcelona man's shot is always rising and sails over the bar.
48' ... Unfortunately not for Nigeria, as that one is cleared too. But a positive start from the men from western Africa.
48' ... cleared for another corner ... third time lucky perhaps?
47' Early corner for Nigeria, down in the far right corner where their fans are gathered. And Leon Balogun gets his head to it! Another corner ...
+++ SECOND HALF +++
Croatia get us underway in the second half. Both sides are unchanged.
+++ HALF-TIME +++
Croatia 1-0 Nigeria
45+1' ... Moses' cross is cleared for Iwobi to drive back in but Croatia throw bodies in the way. Nigeria come forward again and Moses fires over.
45' Nigeria have a free-kick on right hand side after Rebic brings Moses down ...
44' Vrsaljko tries his luck from the edge of the box for Croatia but his shot sails well wide.
40' Croatia close to a second as Rakitic sends in a dangerous cross from the left but Kramaric's header goes over the bar.
33' GOAL! Croatia 1-0 Nigeria (Etebo o.g.)
Rebic flicks on the corner at the near post and Mandzukic's header is turned into the net by Etebo. Unfortunate for the Nigerian who really couldn't do much about that.
32' Rebic again! Mandzukic lays off to the Frankfurt man with a neat chested knock-down and Rebic's shot is deflected wide for a corner.
30' Credit to Nigeria defensively though. A solid line of four with Iwobi and Ndidi sitting just in front, making it hard for Croatia to break through. Perhaps pushing Modric further forward would give them more creativity?
28' Must say I'm a bit underwhelmed by Croatia so far. Of course Nigeria pose a threat on the break but Rakatic and Modric are sitting very deep. Rebic has threatened a couple of times from the left but Perisic has been quiet. Expect more given the talent in this Croatian team.
24' ... and Balogun is back.
22' First corner for Nigeria, initially cleared but John Obi Mikel lofts the ball back in, where Balogun gets an elbow in the face from Vida. The future Brighton player gets the blood cleared up on the sidelines ...
20' ... Modric floats the free-kick to the back post but 19-year-old Francis Uzoho in the Nigeria goal catches easily.
19' Free-kick for Croatia in a promising position after Balogun fouls his Bundesliga colleague Kramaric ...
16' Next effort from Croatia as Hoffenheim striker Andrej Kramaric shoots just wide from the edge of the box.
14' First chance for Croatia! Rebic cuts inside from the left and feeds the ball into Mandzukic who lays it off to Perisic on the edge of the box, but the Inter Milan striker fires just over. Good move!
12' Modric loses possession down by his own corner flag but Mikel's cross is claimed by Subasic.
11' A first good spell of possession for Nigeria is greeted by whistles from the fans in Kaliningrad, the majority of whom are Croatian. Nigeria eventually work the ball foward towards Victor Moses but the move ends with a Croatia goal kick.
9' Croatia's first corner of the game is easily cleared at the front post
6' Free-kick to Nigeria in the center of the park after Mandzukic fouls Mikel, but the long ball into the box is harmless and Croatia clear.
3' Ante Rebic's first chance to stretch his legs down the Croatia left but the Frankfurt man's low cross is cleared.
1' An early Nigeria free-kick is easily headed clear.
+++ KICK-OFF +++
We're off! Nigeria get us underway, kicking from right to left in their dark green changed kit. Croatia from left to right in their traditional red and white checks.
- Nigeria's coach is the Franco-German tactician Gernot Rohr, and he will hoping that his players can bounce back from warm-up defeats to England and the Czech Republic.
Read more from Rohr here, who says: 'We don’t need a Nigerian Mo Salah'
The "Super Eagles" also have Bundesliga representation in their ranks in the form of Mainz 05 defender Leon Balogun, but the star man remains former Chelsea legend John Obi Mikel.
- Croatia go into the game as favorites, which is no surprise given the talent available in midfield and up front. Real Madrid star Luka Modric sits in front of the back four with Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, allowing some household Bundesliga names to carry Croatia forward.
Hoffenheim's Andrej Kramaric and Eintracht Frankfurt's Ante Rebic both start behind former Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, and the attacking ensemble is complemented by former Wolfsburg and current Inter Milan forward Ivan Perisic.
- It's all to play for in Group D! With Argentina having failed to beat Iceland, top spot is there for the taking - but can Croatia or Nigeria take it?