Nigeria and Croatia will both enter this match knowing that a win would go a long way to securing their passage to the second round. With Argentina the likely frontrunners and first-timers Iceland their only other opponents, this becomes both side’s most crucial fixture, and it’s no easy task splitting the teams, particularly as they have never encountered each other.
Nigeria were clinical throughout qualifying despite being placed in a strong group containing 2012 African champions Zambia, four-time World Cup participants Algeria and seven-time World Cup participants Cameroon. Nigeria didn’t lose a single match throughout the process, and still managed to qualify with a game to spare despite being stripped of three points for fielding an ineligible player against Algeria.
Croatia were by contrast fairly average throughout their qualification campaign, which is not a new phenomenon. As has been the case previously, the Balkan nation’s results deteriorated throughout the campaign, before Zlatko Dalic was brought in to steady the ship as new manager. They looked like a totally different team when they blitzed Greece in their play-off encounter.
Nigeria will certainly test the Croatians, not least because they are arguably the best African nation at the tournament, and also because they play under German manager Gernot Rohr. The former defender utilises a back five and counter-attacking style of play, which will contrast the Croatian’s love of possession.
Dalic’s tactics are still somewhat of a mystery considering he has only led the Europeans in a handful of matches. You would think that any side with Luka Modric pulling the strings would prefer a game that focusses on passing, and the pre-tournament friendlies may reveal some of the boss’s cards.
Croatia start this match as the clear favourite, which is understandable considering the wealth of talent at their disposal, although Nigeria have an established manager at the helm and a number of top-class players themselves. Both teams have been inconsistent in the build up, and we’re therefore more inclined to see this one remain level at full-time.
The Croatians enter the match at -163 frontrunners, while Nigeria start at +470. The draw is available at +278 and that is our preferred option. We believe Nigeria can keep a clean sheet here and frustrate the Croatians despite the creative prowess of Modric and co. Our prediction: 0-0.