We here at 9jafootball love a tournament like the World Cup. It’s people like yours truly here that writes about football, something to look forward to every 4 years. When all the stars align and some fans and their countries explode in enjoyment and excitement as they see their countries fight tooth and nail for the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy. Today, however, we will look at Nigeria vs Croatia.
Group D kicks off on Saturday, June 16th with an intercontinental clash of European nation Croatia and African powerhouse Nigeria. Nigeria comes into the World Cup as winners in their qualifying group taking home 14 points from six games. In that span, they knocked out rival Cameroon and always dangerous Algeria. Croatia, on the other hand, came through Group I as runners-up to Iceland but also taking out Ukraine and Turkey. In the playoff round, they swept aside Greece with a 4-1 drubbing at home and in total aggregate.
Now that we got the intro out of the way let’s look at the match itself. This is the first-ever meeting between the two sides. Nigeria comes into this World Cup with hope, as they look to continue their dominating form as of late and to show German manager Gernot Rohr that spark that burned bright in The Super Eagles during the qualifying campaign. The coaching staff has built a disciplined framework which allows superstars like Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, and Kelechi Iheanacho to thrive and express their speed, skill, and finesse as leaders.
Nigeria has a potent attack, that is something nobody can deny, with Moses and Iheanacho leading the charge and throw in 25-year-old Ahmed Musa and you have one of the most athletic and quick paced group going forward in the 2018 World Cup. The issue will be the creativity that is needed to get these forwards the ball in space. Croatia is not a pushover, defenders Vedran Ćorluka and Spanish La Liga midfielders Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona) shield the solid defense that is hard to break.
We think players in the vein of Nigerian captain John Obi Mikel (Tianjin TEDA) is the reason Nigeria can pose a threat to anybody on any day.
Croatia like to form up in a classic 4-3-3 with either Luka Modric or Ivan Rakitic in the classic creative 10 roles. They look to press as high as possible to free up Mario Mandžukić who likes to play off to the left side, not as a winger but an offset left-sided forward. This gives Croatia the look of being heavy on one side of the pitch but with Andrej Kramarić and Ivan Perišić able to rotate with each other on the fly, Croatia will always have one of the 3 mentioned forwards as their central striker and two lagging as feeders to whoever has made the cleanest of moves towards the defense.
Nigeria lineup as well in the 4-3-3 but in a much more direct and attacking offset. The pace is the name of the game, direct vertical passing is the main focal point for Nigeria. John Obi Mikel will use his speed and be passing to move the ball quickly to outside to players like Victor Moses who plays higher for his home nation than his club Chelsea and also Kelechi Iheanacho. This type of quick transition football leads to the fact that their back 4 and goalkeeping is not convincing at this high of a level of football. The 3 in midfield will be needed to shield the weak defensive back four and move up the pitch with their speed and vertical passing.
This is the classic matchup of a team that uses pace and quickness versus a European side that uses slow buildups and clinical passing to rotate their 2 central creative midfielders and their ever-rotating front. If the midfield of Nigeria can hold of this type of play, they can easily counter with their vertical passing game and catch the Croatians off guard. A 2-1 victory for Nigeria is what we like. The Super Eagles can score, but their shaky defense will concede easily when a well-organized team like Croatia finds their groove.