Thursday, September 20, 2018

Prediction: Croatia vs Nigeria

Verdict: Croatia to win – yes

Best Odds: 7/10

Bookmaker: 888sport

Group D is one of the most tightly-contested ones in the 2018 World Cup, as it features Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria. These two sides are going to lock horns in their WC debut, and it is going to be a thrilling encounter where the European side seems to be a slight favourite, at least on paper. The game will start at 19:00 hrs (BST) and the venue will be the Kaliningrad Stadium. The referee will be Sandro Ricci.

Croatia

Croatia could not qualify directly to the 2018 World Cup and needed a playoff tie against Greece to secure their berth on Russian soil. However, that should not fool anyone to think they are not one of the most threatening teams in Europe, and they could even be considered as a potential darkhorse to make a deep run in the tournament. Led by world-class players such as Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, Croatia have enough tools to come out alive of this tough Group, but for that to happen, they must start with a win against Nigeria since The Super Eagles are, by far, the weakest team in the Group. Croatia’s recent results have not been very inspiring (W2, D1, L2 in their past five matches), but they have the advantage that they are yet to taste defeat against African opponents in their history (W3, D2 in five games). Will Croatia manage to live up to expectations and secure the three points in their debut on Russian soil?

Team News

Croatia will be at full strength ahead of this game.

There are a few doubts regarding the starting XI, but recent reports have indicated that the manager will choose a very attacking side with four forwards (Mandzukic, Perisic, Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric) right from the start.

Nigeria

Nigeria must be one of the most difficult teams to analyse heading into the 2018 World Cup. The Super Eagles have mixed impressive displays – like their comeback 4-2 win over Argentina – with some really poor ones, and right now it remains to be seen which side will actually turn up on Russian soil. Nigeria’s recent results have not been very good either, as they are riding a four-game winless run that includes defeats against three UEFA sides such as England, Serbia, and Czech Republic. That shouldn’t bode well for their chances against Croatia, especially if we add the fact that The Super Eagles have not been able to win in their last three WC opening games since 2002 to date. But even though it seems they have everything against them, Nigeria can compete toe-to-toe with the best of them if they are on a good day. And now they just need to show it when it matters the most.

Team News

Nigeria have a major doubt ahead of this game, as centre-back Leon Balogun suffered an injury during training and local reports have indicated that he might not be able to play in this one.

Elsewhere, Kelechi Iheanacho is expected to be out of the starting XI. Odion Ighalo would take his place in the starting XI.

Key Factors to Consider

  • Croatia are undefeated against African opposition, registering three wins and two draws in five matches.
  • In comparison, Nigeria have been poor against European rivals. The Super Eagles register three losses in their last four matches against UEFA sides.
  • There have been over 2,5 goals in nine of the past 10 Croatia matches.
  • Croatia have made it past the Group Stage just once in their World Cup history. Meanwhile, Nigeria have advanced past the opening round in three of their six WC appearances.
  • This will be the first meeting between both teams.

Conclusion

Neither Croatia nor Nigeria have looked dominant during the pre-WC friendlies. However, the Balkan side has far more experience, a better squad, and a few names that can turn things around. Nigeria do not have game-changing players on their squad, and that could hurt their chances of pulling an upset.

That should be enough to see them rise as winners in their first game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Verdict: Croatia to win – yes

Best Odds: 7/10

Bookmaker: 888sport

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Juan Pablo Aravena


A freelance writer and sports analyst with almost five years of experience in the industry before joining SoccerNews, Juan Pablo Aravena is based in Chile and currently contributes to several publications and websites including SoccerNews, 12up, and Sports From The Basement, while also working as a fantasy beat writer for RotoWire, as a database editor for EA Sports, and as a football analyst for SmartOdds and InsideFutbol. His areas of focus are Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, LaLiga, and Ligue 1, but he has also written about MLS and South American football in the past.

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