Luka Modric led Croatia to an important win in their World Cup 2018 debut against a sturdy Nigeria team. In addition to Real Madrid’s maestro, Croatia’s line-up included several big names from top European clubs such as Rakitic, Perisic, Lovren, Kamaric, and Mandzukic. Kovacic who is currently trying to establish himself in the national side was on the bench to start.
Nigeria for their part also fielded a team with several relatively big names such as Mikel, Iwobi, Moses, and Ndidi. Some surprise absentees from the starting line-up were Iheanacho and Musa — the latter famously scored a brace against Argentina four years ago in Brazil.
The game was a cagey affair with limited chances for both teams. Modric played in a deep midfield role in the Croatian setup partnering with Rakitic to build momentum and dictate the tempo. The diminutive midfielder showcased his sometimes underrated supreme distribution and passing quality. A frequent sight in the first half was seeing Modric make effortless switches of play across the field to the left wing.
He was at the heart of everything good about Croatia’s game as he combined well with his teammates, showed great defensive intensity, and constantly looked to progress play. He delivered the corner that led to the first goal in the 32nd minute which was the result of a fortunate deflection following a Mandzukic header.
Modric stepped up to the plate to bury the penalty in the second half after Troost-Ekong wrestled Mandzukic to the ground inside the box. The Croatian showed little nerves before coolly dispatching from the spot to seal the win for his team. The goal was symbolic as Modric joined Davor Suker as the only players to have scored penalties in the World Cup in Croatia’s history.
2 - Luka Modrić is the second player to score a penalty for #CRO in the World Cup, after Davor Šuker vs Romania in 1998, both as Real Madrid players. Icons. pic.twitter.com/YOMT22UY8O— OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 16, 2018
Nigeria, who had struggled to create chances throughout the whole game, pushed a little harder but couldn’t ultimately change the result. Kovacic came in with just under a quarter of an hour remaining to help close out the game. The young midfielder did well except for one occasion where he could have passed the ball but decided to shoot from a tough angle instead.
The win gives Croatia a great chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds and sends them to the top of their group given Argentina and Iceland’s game ended in a draw.