Kaliningrad Stadium – World Cup Group D
Croatia take on Nigeria at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday evening as both teams look to begin their World Cup campaigns with a win. With Argentina the favourites to qualify from Group D, these two nations – along with Iceland – will try to join them in the knockout stages in Russia.
This will be the first ever meeting between Croatia and Nigeria. This will be just the second time the Croats have met African opposition in their World Cup history, having beaten Cameroon 4-0 in Brazil four years ago.
Neither of these squads are carrying any injuries heading into the first set of fixtures which is great news for coaches Zlatko Dalic and Gernot Rohr. Andrej Kramaric’s winner in the friendly against Senegal has likely earned him a Croatian starting berth, either alongside or instead of Mario Mandzukic. Nigeria will line up in a 4-3-3 system, hoping to use the speed of Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Odion Ighalo on the counter attack.
Croatia v Nigeria Preview and Predictions
Croatia are the favourites for Saturday evening’s game and are at 4/5 to get three points which would put them in a good position to advance from the group. But it’s notable that the Croats haven’t progressed from the group stage of a World Cup finals since way back in 1998 when they finished third in France.
Perhaps slightly surprisingly, Nigeria are quite sizeable outsiders to begin with a win. They’re priced at 5/1 to get the better of Croatia but their opponents will need to be wary of the pace that the Super Eagles have on the break. Rohr’s men have won only once of their five friendlies this year but there have been glimmers of hope in narrow defeats to England and the Czech Republic this month. The draw is at 13/5.
Neither of these teams have won an opening game at the World Cup finals since the turn of the century and Nigeria haven’t even scored a goal in the three tournament openers they qualified for. A tight, cagey match could follow which would aid the Croats. Technically-gifted playmakers like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic would thrive in such a game. Under 1.5 goals is at 21/10.
Croatia to win to nil at 8/5
Nigeria’s forward line may be exciting but their inexperience at the back is clear. If Croatia are patient and not too gung ho, it should be enough to claim a clean sheet and a victory.
Andrej Kramaric to score first at 11/2
The Hoffenheim forward appears to have cemented his place in the starting line-up with good warm-up performances and is high in confidence.