It is a first meeting between the two countries but Nigeria has not lost to a European country in the opening match of the World Cup while Croatia have not won their opening match in the last two World Cups.
There was good news in the Nigerian camp on Friday when Leon Balogun completed the training session. There had been doubts about the fitness of the new Brighton and Hove Albion defender but he seems to have regained fitness ahead of the Croatia clash.
Coach Zlatko Dalic is expected to start Andrej Kramaric as his main striker and the Hoffenheim has said the Croats are totally concentrated on the game against the Eagles. “The Nigeria game is all we are dreaming about. We do not dream of any quarter-finals or anything like that.”
For Odion Ighalo, he is hoping he can mark his 29th birthday with a goal for the Eagles while the squad’s youngest player, Francis Uzoho believes the Eagles will “will win if we play our best”. Dalic added: “I see Nigeria as a young, potent and hungry team with great potential. This first match is very important – it will set the tone for the rest of our tournament.” Yes, it will!
Head to head
It is a first meeting between the two countries.
Three duels to watch
Luka Modric v Wilfred Ndidi
The conductor of the Croatia symphony is Modric while the drive and energy of the Eagles is Ndidi. As much as Modric will get on the ball and dictate, Ndidi must be on the Real Madrid midfielder’s case like a fly on a horse’s tail. He cannot be allowed to have the time he wants on the ball.
Ivan Perisic v Abdullahi Shehu
Actually the most dangerous forward for Croatia is the Inter Milan wide forward, which could mean playing a steady and strong Shehu to negate the threat. Perisic is very good in one-on-one situations, good in the air and can generate some speed while Shehu despite two ordinary performances in friendlies is steady and calm with a midfielder’s brain.
Ivan Rakitic v Oghenekaro Etebo
If the Eagles are going to threaten the Croats, the danger will emanate from Etebo. When Las Palmas played Barcelona in the league in March, Etebo played a deep role but was tasked with breaking through the Barcelona press – he must do that job for the Eagles on Saturday against Rakitic, who though excellent in reading the game can be rash in making covering tackles.
Referee in charge: 43-year-old Brazilian, Sandro Ricci was a centre referee for the France v Honduras match at Brazil 2014 where he validated a goal by means of the newly introduced goal-line technology.
WORLD CUP FACT: Whenever Nigeria has won or drawn her opening, they have gone on to qualify for the second round.
Venue: The 35,000-seater Kaliningrad Stadium is located in Oktyabrsky Island which makes it is the closest stadium to Europe. There will be a lot of Croats in the stadium.
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