There was to be no surprises with the result on Saturday evening as Croatia eased a victory away from the lowest-ranked team in Group D.
A subdued match was splintered by two sparks of life and Mario Mandžukić was indirectly involved in each.
An own-goal opened the scoring just after half an hour when Mandžukić’s header was inadvertently deflected into the net by Oghenekaro Etebo.
Later, William Troost-Ekong gave away a needless penalty as he illegally wrestled with the Croatian striker.
With few other highlights to punctuate the match, Croatia cruised through the remaining 20 minutes to seal their place at the top of an admittedly premature table.
Beyond the result, what else did we learn from Saturday’s final fixture?
1 No playmakers = no creativity
Both teams played formations that was lacking an advanced midfielder in the central area of the pitch. Without this number ten figure in the team, they were without an orchestrator who could craft a clear-cut opening for the main strikers.
Croatia’s wingers pushed high up the pitch which left their most influential players, Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić, both playing deeper midfield roles. Unable to advance high up the field and with nobody directly in front of them, this often meant they had no option but to send the ball long.
While Nigeria’s wingers sat deeper and looked to be more involved in the build-up play, they too lacked a natural source of creativity behind their lone striker.
Jon Obi Mikel was expected to fill this role in the team. However, he naturally gravitated into a deeper position in search of the ball.
2 Super Eagles fail to fly
Nigeria slumped to defeat with a relatively limp performance.
The architects of their own downfall, both goals they conceded were due to an immaturity in defence. The opening goal came from a corner which was met with a static set of players wearing green.
There were question marks about Nigeria’s ability to deal with aerial balls coming into this match. However, Mandžukić was completely unmarked when centrally positioned five yards out as he stooped to head the ball onto Etebo’s heel.
The second goal saw Dutch-born Troost-Ekong manhandle the forward in a way that is unexpected at the game’s highest level. With little being offered as an attacking force, two relatively soft goals being conceded was exactly what Nigeria manager, Gernot Rohr, would have wanted to avoid.
3 Apprehensive beginnings
There was a nervous opening to the match from both sides.
Following the earlier result which saw Argentina draw with Iceland, the match began with Group D in a finely balanced state.
The emphasis appeared to be not to lose rather than win this game with neither team pressing the opposition defenders in possession.
Likewise, most shots were taken from distance and there was little urgency shown by anyone on the pitch.
Instead, priorities lay in ensuring their defence was in order rather than trying to spring a quick attack to force an opening goal.
4 Room for improvement
Even after Croatia took the lead, the pattern of the match remained unchanged. There was no shots on target in the first half and it wasn’t until the 92nd minute that Croatia finally managed to put a shot on target from open-play.
The second goal served to kill the game off as a contest and only then did the Eastern European side begin to look more fluent.
Even so, there was a peculiar lack of chemistry amongst their forward players and they will need to improve this greatly if they’re to break through the stubborn Icelandic defence which was on display earlier in the afternoon.
Argentina are up next for Croatia in a match in which they’re likely to face a much tougher examination.
With three points already collected, they will be now favourites to progress into the knockout stages from Group D and will need to play with more belief if they’re to remain in that position.
5 Signs of life
Nigeria entered this tournament ranked 48th in the world’s standings and favourites to finish bottom of this group.
While their performance was devoid of any intensity, there was some glimpses of hope to be gleaned from this display.
Although he’s just had a poor season of under-performance at Chelsea, Victor Moses showed an appetite to take on his marker.
Much like he was in the friendly against England, Odion Ighalo also showed pace and promise in attack. His positive mentality is something that needs to rub off on his teammates if Nigeria are to fare better when they face Iceland next Friday.
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