The Super Eagles on Saturday at the Kaliningrad Stadium lost 2-0 to the Croatia in their first match at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
An own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo and a penalty converted by Luka Modric gave the Croatians the three points. It was the Europeans’ first win at the World Cup opening match since 1998.
Eagles coach Gernot Rohr started teenager Francis Uzoho in goal while Shehu Adullahi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun and Brian Idowu were in the defence. Captain Mikel Obi, Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi were in the midfield. China-based striker Odion Ighalo, Chelsea wing-back Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi were in the attack.
Nigeria started the better of the two sides as they settled against the Croats but the Europeans grew into the game and battled the Eagles for the control of the midfield. Unlike in their pre-World Cup friendlies, the Eagles were the better side in the first half.
However, the creativity of Real Madrid midfielder Modric and Barcelona holding midfielder Ivan Rakitic, gave the Eagles midfield a tough time as both sides sized each other up.
The Eagles’ first chance came in the second minute when Moses’ free-kick was gathered by the Croat goalkeeper – following a foul on the Chelsea wing-back.
Croatia’s first chance came in the 14th minute when Rakitic shot over the bar with Uzoho badly exposed. Moses and Iwobi failed to complement Ighalo in the attack as the Eagles failed to make a meaningful use of the set pieces coming their way.
However, the Eagles went behind in the 32nd when the defenders failed to effectively deal with a corner kick. The ball fell to Mandzukic whose header was diverted into the net by Etebo.
Nigeria rallied and searched for the equaliser but they failed to get past a dogged Croatian defence.
Nigeria’s attack became lively when Rohr substituted Ighalo with Kelechi Iheanacho. However the Croatians forced Uzoho to make a save in the 78th minute as the Eagles lost control of the match.
Rohr then brought on Simeon Nwankwo for Mikel, as he searched for parity.
The Eagles have thus lost their third opening match at the World Cup – having also lost their opening fixtures in 2002 and 2010 – and on each occasion, they failed to progress from the group stages. Also, the team have failed to score in the last 180 minutes. Their last goal came during their 2-1 loss to England in a friendly match.
The Eagles will play Iceland, who drew 1-1 with Argentina on Saturday, in their second match on Friday.