Croatia vs Nigeria
World Cup 2018 comes to Kaliningrad with a bang as fans of Croatia and Nigeria mix with the locals to enjoy a potentially explosive battle in the Group of Death.
Zlatko Dalic and Gernot Rohr bring their sides to Russia; but while both teams have realistic chances of reaching the latter stages, there’s one small matter to deal with first.
Every tournament has a group which makes the other players and fans gasp—and feel mightily glad they aren’t in it! At FIFA 2018, it’s Group D. As well as these two highly gifted teams, Euro stars Iceland and Leo Messi’s Argentina are in the fight.
Only two will survive.
The Kaliningrad Stadium opened earlier this year, built on the Oktyabrsky Island in the middle of the city which had been left untouched for hundreds of years. What a way for this part of Russia to come crashing into the 21st Century!
Goals may be hard to come by, but we can expect to see plenty of FIFA 2018 highlights on Saturday night.
Luka Modric has been the heartbeat of Croatia’s talented side for years and he would dearly love to inspire his national side to success.
On paper, you’d expect this team to finish second in Group D, but they have largely underperformed at recent competitions. However, us odds say Dalic’s team should reach the last 16 and potentially go further. And as we all know, if you get to the quarter-finals, anything can happen. Look back to 2016 when Portugal sprung a surprise to win the European Championship.
Now, Modric wants to emulate his Los Blancos teammate Cristiano Ronaldo by leading his nation to glory.
Arguably, Modric has better players to support him than Ronaldo had. In an impressive midfield, he has Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic alongside him. And the Croats have no little experience in defence and offence, with Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren anchoring the back and Juve’s Mario Mandzukic leading the line up front. You can’t get much better European pedigree than these players.
Dalic was recruited after the qualifiers to coax the best out of this highly skilled bunch, and he certainly has the tools to work with. Let’s see what he does with them.
At 48th in the FIFA World Rankings, 28 behind Croatia, the Nigerians are the lowest-ranked in the group. Nonetheless, take a look at their team-list and you can see they are no pushovers. Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi has been in good form in midfield, while Premier League fans will also recognise the striking pair of Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and ex-Watford hitman Odion Ighalo.
In defence, Rohr has sculpted a cohesive partnership between William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun—the latter impressing in qualification and attracting the interest of Brighton & Hove Albion, so EPL fans should take a close look at him. He has poise and power in equal measures, and his battle with Mandzukic could be a key factor in the outcome of this game.
But the Super Eagles were anything but super in an insipid first half in a recent friendly against England, though they restored pride in the second period to finish with a respectable 2-1 loss. They need to replicate that second-half performance from here on.
It’s the first meeting between these two teams, so let’s take a look at recent form for more clues. Croatia have won two and lost two this year, with defeats in Peru and Brazil, but they had a good win in Mexico and a success last week against Senegal.
Since qualifying, Nigeria haven’t pulled up any trees, losing three and drawing against Congo in the last four games.
Looking back, Croatia made the World Cup semi-finals in France 1998, losing 2-1 to the hosts after the great Davor Suker had given them the lead.
Nigeria made the second round in 1994, 1998 and 2014, so who says they can’t grab one of the top two places in Group D?
What are the odds?
Group D is the most difficult to work out with our FIFA 2018 predictions, and to show just what a competitive group this is, the Super Eagles are most unlikely to qualify— at 3.50, behind Iceland (3.40), Croatia (1.35) and Argentina (1.13).
Both teams will be desperate to avoid defeat in their opening fixture, and a draw is available at 3.50. We believe it will be a tight game, and that’s reflected in the handicap betting offer of 2.00 for Croatia to win with a -0.75 goal handicap. That’s the mark as Nigeria are at odds of 1.93 with that +0.75 goal advantage.
Over 2.25 goals is available at 2.04 with Under 2.25 at 1.86, and the most likely scoreline? A 1-0 Croatia win at odds of 5.00, with a 1-1 draw at 6.60.
Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.
CHECK OUT OUR BLOG FOR MORE WORLD CUP 2018 STORIES & ODDS
Stay updated with everything sports and betting.
Follow us on social Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.