KALININGRAD, Russia – Even in a more defensive role, Luka Modric can still lead the attack.
The Croatia midfielder scored one goal and set up the other in his team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria on Saturday at the World Cup.
Modric sent in a corner that was headed by two teammates and then deflected into the net by Nigeria midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo in the 32nd minute.
“We scored at the perfect moment. After that it was easier for us to play our game,” Modric said. “After the first goal we started creating chances.”
Modric later converted a penalty in the 71st after William Ekong held onto Mario Mandzukic. It was the fifth penalty awarded in four World Cup matches on Saturday.
Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr felt his team also deserved a penalty.
“There were also so many fouls in the other box, they could have also given a penalty for us,” Rohr said.
Croatia, with Modric and Ivan Rakitic controlling the midfield, dominated most of the match and rarely allowed Nigeria to get close to goal. It took nearly an hour for the Nigerians to have an effort on target — a header by Odion Ighalo straight at goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
Croatia now leads Group D with three points and next plays Argentina on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod. Nigeria will take on Iceland a day later in Volgograd.
“We have the youngest team in this World Cup,” Rohr said. “Let them learn from this match, from this defeat.”
Croatia’s victory sent it to the top of the group after Argentina could only manage a 1-1 draw against Iceland.
A win for Croatia against Argentina on Thursday would likely send the Croats to the round of 16.
Nigeria, however, now needs a win against Iceland on Friday to have any real chance of advancing.
Key to success
Modric and Rakitic pushed their team forward and did not allow Nigeria’s midfield to reach its fast, young forwards.
The Nigerians struggled to defend Modric’s corners, leading to both of Croatia’s goals — the scramble that led to the own-goal and then the foul on Mandzukic that earned Croatia its penalty.
“A win is a win is a win. Corners and penalties are part and parcel of football. What matters is you score,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “There was some luck there, but we earned our luck.”
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