The Super Egles began their Russia 2018 World cup campaign on a dissapointing note, Losing 2-0 to Croatia. Two goals in either half, stemming from corner kicks, gave Croatia the win over Nigeria on Saturday night at the Kaliningrad Stadium.

An own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo in the first half was added to by a penalty by Luka Modric in the second. Nigeria never really got going at all throughout the encounter and it was Disheartening to see the team go down in such a wimpish manner.

First Half

Nigeria kicked off  with a 4-2-3-1 Formation , with Ndidi and Etebor the anchors in Midfield and Mikel, Iwobi and Moses in the Middle of the park, it was a steady start from both teams, getting on the ball and trying to instigate attacks.Everything was going well for Nigeria. We had not seen much of the so-called Croatian Midfield that was touted as their veritable weapon. Modric wasn’t seeing the ball and Rakitic was busy collecting Yellow cards.

The Croatians were left resorting to Long balls as Andrej Kramaric on one of those balls found some room and took a  shot, but it was wide. The Croatians had more of the ball with Alex Iwobi deprived of the ball and Mikel Obi, though trying his best, but he was indeisive on if he should get forward and join the attack or stay back.

The Eagles won their first corner kick in the 22nd minute and Oghenekaro Etebo’s shot went very wide. Gernot Rohr must have been concerned on 23 minutes when Leon Balogun went down in the Croatia box. Balogun insinuated he had been caught by Domagoj Vida’s elbow. He needed treatment off the pitch for a bleeding nose.

The first yellow card of the match was shown to Rakitic in the 30th minute as he caught Moses late on the half-way line.

But then the moment it went horribly wrong, Balogun charged a Rebic shot for a corner kick in the 32nd minute. Modric took it, it was flicked on by Rebic and headed by Mandzukic but Etebo’s standing left foot diverted the ball past Francis Uzoho for the opening goal. This was particularly annoying as the header by Mandzukic was going well wide before cruel fate forced it to go in off Etebo.

That goal rattled the eagles as They began to lose concentration and allowing the Croatians come at them for the 2nd goal. Iwobi then had a scoring chance on half time but his powerful Shot was well blocked by Dejan Lovren.  Two minutes was added on before referee Sandro Ricci blew off the first stanza. Croatia had 55% of possession in that first half.

Etebo scores Own goal to give Croats the lead.


Second Half

The second half started with Balogun almost getting Nigeria back on even terms but his header was diverted for another corner. The Eagles had three corner kicks in quick succession. Rakitic then shot over from almost 40 yards as the Croats started getting back on the ball.

Melee then ensued in the Croatian box with Odion Ighalo remonstrating with the referee when he was called for a foul on Ivan Strinic. The Eagles mounted pressure as they sought an equaliser. But there was a problem with the link betweeen Midfeild and Attack.

Rebic could have given the Croats a second goal on 55 minutes but though he blasted wide, he had also been flagged offside. Ighalo got his header on target in the 59th minute but it was a weak effort and straight at the keeper –that was the Eagles’ first attempt on target. Croatia then pulled out Kramaric and sent on Marcelo Brozovic on 60 minutes as Zlatko Dalic added more energy and steel in the midfield to frustrate Nigeria.

Ahmed Musa came on for Iwobi, who had been largely ineffectual, in the 62nd minute. Ekong then conceded a corner from a Modric free-kick as the tempo of the game dropped. Mandzukic directed his header very wide.

Then the moment where the game was lost as a contest. Ekong was caught with his two arms wrapped around Mandzukic preventing the croatian striker from jumping for the ball. That was considered a foul by the referee on 70 minutes and he awarded a penalty for Croatia.

Modric sent Uzoho the wrong way to give Croatia a two-goal advantage with 20 minutes left on the clock. That made it two goals conceded from set pieces by the Eagles a very poor statistic for the Handlers of the team.

Iheanacho got a shooting chance in the Croatian box in the 77th but he dragged his effort off target. Rebic went off for Mateo Kovacic on 78 minutes. Uzoho had to parry away a Perisic cross as the Nigerians started leaving gaps in front of their defensive line as they chased a comeback goal.

Iheanacho showed strength to hold off Lovren and teed up Musa, who collided with Strinic, who got the ball for Croatia. Strinic needed some treatment and both players had to leave the pitch. Balogun tried to divert a pass towards goal with his head but it was comfortable for Danijel Subasic, in goal for Croatia. Simi Nwankwo came in with 4 mins of regulation time to go but could barely get a touh of the ball.

Etebo’s last shot was high, wide and very ambitious with three minutes left on the clock. Strinic again blocked another half chance for the Eagles by Moses. Uzoho saved from Kovacic in added time.

Croatia have now taken the early lead in Group D with Nigeria now having a mountain to climb as they take on Iceland on Friday.

The coaches will do well to correct this tendency to concede goals via set pieces. How is it that we cannot use them to score but our opponents do with ease. Also something doesn’t seem quite right with the way the team is set up..Iheanacho has to come in Next game and provide more bite in attack. The whole Ighalo all by himself upfront is just  a waste of time.

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