Nigeria fall to Croatia
The Super Eagles’ first game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup is officially in the books, and unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as many had hoped. Despite showing glimmers of something special over the course of the 90 minutes, Nigeria fell to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia as they kicked off their time in Russia with a disappointing loss. The game wasn’t the most exhilarating of clashes on a day which saw three other games light up the WC, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that Nigeria offered very little from an attacking perspective.
While they certainly came forward with some force on a handful of separate occasions, they couldn’t really turn that into viable threats on goal. On the other hand, Croatia certainly weren’t setting the world on fire in the first half an hour, only for Oghenekaro Etebo to turn the ball into his own net which handed them a fortunate lead. They rode their luck throughout the remainder of the first half and into the second, and while they began to look comfortable courtesy of their growing confidence as the game went on, they were given a big helping hand when Troost-Ekong took down Mandzukic in the box which led to Luka Madrid converting a penalty for the Europeans.
Ighalo and Iwobi looked lively at points, but for the most part, this wasn’t the performance that many fans were hoping to see from the Nigerians. While they’ve been praised for their team spirit in the build-up to this tournament they’ve also experienced a series of friendly losses, which usually doesn’t mean much, but perhaps they were indicators of what was to come. They showed an incredible lack of creativity and quality given that they’ve been viewed as one of African football’s best hopes in Russia, and with Argentina & Iceland still to come, they’ll need to show substantial improvement from a defensive standpoint if they want to have any kind of chance at progressing into the knockout stages. Obviously, they didn’t show much attacking prowess either, but they certainly don’t seem like a team capable of keeping out Lionel Messi & company in the same manner that Iceland did.
The positive for The Super Eagles, if there is one, lies in the fact that they now have five days to prepare for their next encounter against the aforementioned Iceland. Despite their defeat, they’re still only one point behind second place, and with six points still to play for, one moment of magic could completely alter the trajectory of their World Cup campaign. There’s work to be done, but they have the players necessary to make some noise in their two remaining Group D games.