The tilt between Croatia and Nigeria will be played at the Kaliningrad Stadium in Kaliningrad on June 16th. The Blazers are labeled as the second strongest team in the so-called “Group of Death” alongside Argentina, but the pressure is big following a poor display in Brazil four years ago, so the opening game at the World Cup could be decisive for them. The Super Eagles will be looking for their chances to upset Croatia as they will play with cold heads, which is not the case with the rivals.
Croatia vs. Nigeria
Three-Way: 1: Croatia -139; X: +270 Draw; 2: Nigeria +475 (Odds provided by Delaware Park Sportsbook)
Spread -1: Croatia +129; Nigeria -167
Total 2.5 goals: Over +125; Under -164
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The road to the World Cup
Croatia needed the playoffs to get to Russia but they didn’t have problems with Greece, defeating them 4-1 on aggregate to secure their fifth World Cup since the break-up of Yugoslavia, only missing on two tournaments in the process. Their biggest success to date is the third place in France 1998, Croatia’s debut at the WC, and it’s going to be hard to repeat it despite having a strong team with plenty of quality individuals.
On the other hand, Nigeria qualified to their sixth World Cup and are hoping to make a step forward this time around and reach the quarter-finals, which would be their biggest success. They advanced through the group stage in Brazil, but it’s not going to be easy now with tough competition, so even the Round of 16 would be considered as a great achievement.
Croatia is in a hot and cold from recently as they won two and lost two friendly matches this spring, but they faced opponents who are also playing a part at the WC in Russia, losing to Peru and Brazil, and defeating Mexico and Senegal. The Blazers didn’t score in those two losses, while the offense wasn’t quite productive, scoring just three goals in all four matches.
Nigeria participated in six international friendlies but after winning the opening clash with Poland, 1-0, they lost four out of the next five matches, most recently to England and the Czech Republic. The Super Eagles’ defense was out of the sync and conceded in each of the last five games, while the offense showed a glimpse of hope in the duel with the Three Lions as they showed they can score.
Players to watch
The captain and the midfield dynamo Luka Modric is the most important player in the squad and it’s going to be intriguing to see his performance with all the allegations against him and teammate Dejan Lovren, connected to the scandal in the Croatian FA. Modric will have to stand above and keep his head high, but we will see if he is mentally strong to do so with all the pressure around.
The Nigerians have a few players who can turn out to be a hit here, but I believe Victor Moses should be the one to watch as he has a lot more of responsibilities in Nigeria than at Chelsea, so his displays are definitely be monitored.
- Croatia scored only three goals in the last four games
- Croatia allowed five goals in the previous four matches
- Nigeria is without a victory in the past five
- Nigeria conceded nine goals in the previous five games
The two sides never met before and with an inconsistent form of each team it’s going to be hard to predict the final outcome of this clash, so I will not pick a winner here. Instead, I would go with goals on both ends as I am not convinced with their respective defenses, so at least a goal on each side should be enough to more than double your stake.
The Pick: Both teams to score YES (+123)