Croatia took on Nigeria in what was the first game for both teams on Saturday night in Kaliningrad.
Both coaches began the match with offensive-looking starting lineups, but the encounter did not turn out that way on the field to from the kickoff on.
Both sides knew that they had the chance to temporarily go top of Group D, after Argentina and Iceland opened the section with a 1-1 draw. However, neither team necessarily started the game as if they really wanted to eagerly take the initiative.
The Croatian team did have a few, mostly harmless shots in the direction of the opposition goal, but that was to a large extent all that happened early on.
A corner for the side from the Balkans gave them the lead more than half an hour into the match, as Oghenekaro Etebo deflected the ball into his own net, 1-0 Croatia!
Toward the end of the first 45 minutes, Nigeria became more active. That increased after the break, but without creating significant scoring opportunities for the West African team. The Super Eagles could not get back in the game, while the Vatreni did only what was necessary.
The decisive play of the game, started from another Croatian corner, however: after more than seventy minutes, Mario Mandžukić was brought down in the penalty area, before the ball could reach him.
Luka Modrić took the spot kick that followed and scored, sending the keeper the wrong way,2-0!
That is how the match finished.
The play of the Croatian national team was not the best, but neither was that of the much more favored France or Argentina earlier in the day. The first match in a major tournament is about winning, everything else is secondary at best.
Croatia did their homework in the first match, Argentina did not do theirs, how that fact factors into the two sides’ meeting on Thursday remains to be seen.