• As Modric, Ndidi light up Kaliningrad Stadium
Nigeria would today at the Kaliningrad Stadium,Kaliningrad in Russia 2018 World Cup clash with Croatia in one of the Group D games.
No doubt, Group D will be one of the most entertaining groups to watch as it contains debatably the greatest football player of all time.
In the same vein, Lionel Messi and Argentina will also kick off their World Cup adventure today when they face Euro 2016 great entertainers, Iceland.
Nigeria qualified for the World Cup after Alex Iwobi scored a vital winner against Zambia back in October.
The Super Eagles played Argentina in a friendly match in November which they won 4-2, with Iwobi scoring twice.
They will of course, be hoping for a similar result when the two sides meet again in St Petersburg on the 26th of June.
Nigeria have never made it past the last of 16 at the World Cup and were knocked out four years ago in Brazil by France.
This will be Nigeria’s 6th World Cup and they will be desperate to please the millions of African fans supporting them from around the world.
In the road to the World Cup fiesta, Croatia made much harder work of qualifying than expected, finishing second in their group, after defeats away against eventual group winners Iceland and Turkey and a shock draw at home to Finland. The latter setback saw the dismissal of coach Ante Cacic, with his replacement Dalic presiding over a 2-0 away win over Ukraine and a convincing two-legged triumph over Greece.
After finishing third in the 1998 edition in France, Croatia have failed to find a footing in the World Cup, failing to clear the group stage in any of the editions that have followed. There are lot of familiar faces from the 2014 edition within the squad and they will be led by the Real Madrid creative midfielder, Luka Modric.
The midfield is their biggest weapon and on paper, it is one of the most stacked midfields that are headed to Russia. But, manager Zlatko Dalic will be looking to find the right balance in defence and attack in order to make Croatia a well rounded unit and one to fear.
Croatia were brilliant defensively in the qualification phase in Europe, conceding just 4 goals in the group stage in 10 games. But, 1-0 defeats against Turkey and Iceland saw them have to play Greece for a spot at the World Cup. While Croatia did ace the two-legged tie over Greece, their inability to break down a structured defence is something that Dalic would be looking to correct before the start of the World Cup.
Indeed, Croatia have been handed a tricky group, but Bookmakers believe the squad will be pumped to make a mark, especially with the 2018 World Cup likely to serve as the swansong for stalwarts like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Subasic and Vedran Corluka.
Modric has gotten his hands on almost every trophy at club level. So, at the age of 32, the Real Madrid midfielder will be looking to have a successful run at the World Cup with Croatia as this is very likely to be his last, considering his age.
Nigeria had their best-ever finish in the World Cup in 2014 by reaching the Round of 16 stage. But, Pundits say with the golden generationplayers coming through, the Super Eagles have one of the most underrated squads and can do serious damage in Russia.
The Super Eagles squad is full of players with Premier League experience, which means they are unlikely to be fazed by the big stage. Gernot Rohr has an abundance of riches at his disposal at every position.
The chemistry within the team is also adequate, with a fair portion of the players having played with each other for a while now. While the midfield is equally strong with Wilfred Ndidi in control, Nigeria’s attack has not been impressive for some time.
The attack possesses pace from the likes of Alex Iwobi and Ahmed Musa along with the precision and finishing of Odion Ighalo and Kelechi Iheanacho. Nigeria’s squad is a very young one and the generation will be eager to showcase their potential in Russia.
Incidentally, Musa is the highest scoring player for the nation to be in the squad and the forward will be keen to prove his Leicester City disaster outing was a mere blip. On a good day, Musa can run the best of defences ragged and Rohr will be counting on the speedster to make his mark.
Ndidi though, is likely to be more instrumental than Musa. Part of the same Leicester squad, Ndidi grew in stature with each passing match and his consistency was one of the things that shined through. While he will be responsible for keeping things tight in midfield, it’s his ability to trouble the opposition goal from a range that will come in handy to create chances on goal against tight defences.
The finest generation of talent Croatia has produced since the World Cup semi-finalists of 1998 is yet to fulfil its potential on the international stage.
But few teams in Russia will be able to boast a better midfield; Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are both world-class playmakers, ably supported by the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Milan Badelj. The presence of Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic should also ensure sufficient firepower.
Yet the sum has never equalled Croatia’s individual parts at a major tournament. In 2014 they exited at the group stage, finishing third behind Brazil and Mexico. Two years later they served notice of their strength by beating Spain, only to lose to Portugal after extra time in the round of 16.
Pundits are of the opinion that Croatia have the squad that should fear no one in Group D, which looks wide open in light of Argentina’s struggles.
Playing Argentina last gives the Eagles the opportunity to clinch a spot before even playing that game, but they will need at least a draw against Croatia in today’s opener to have a chance.