Maybe the deepest group in the 2018 World Cup in Russia is Group D, which features one of the tournament favorites in powerhouse Argentina, a very good Croatia side, Euro 2016 surprise team Iceland and one of the best African clubs in Nigeria. Nigeria and Croatia open their World Cup against one another on Saturday and the loser (unless there’s a draw) already will be in trouble.
Croatia vs Nigeria 2018 World Cup Betting Preview
When: Saturday, 3 PM ET
Where: Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, Russia
TV/stream: Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go
2018 World Cup Odds: Croatia -139, Nigeria +390, draw +250 (2.5)
Why Bet on Croatia?
Croatia enters the 2018 World Cup with high expectations, boasting what is arguably its strongest roster since the 1998 Cup. Led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, the Croatians are expected to finish second in their group behind Argentina. Most of the players are experienced at the big stage as well because they play for top teams in the best leagues. The 32-year-old Modric continues to be a key piece for Real Madrid, where he’s won four Champions League crowns and a La Liga title.
Croatia had significant problems in UEFA Group I and managed to secure second place behind Iceland on the last matchday thanks to the 2-0 win in Ukraine. The federation decided to fire the coach, Ante Cacic, just a few days previously, following a 1-1 draw at home with Finland, and named the little-known Zlato Dalic as his replacement.
Once part of Yugoslavia, Croatia claimed third place at its first World Cup in 1998. It’s been group stage only in the three of four tournaments since. For Croatia to advance out of the group, they’ll need to rely on their strengths: their passing game, their ability to keep possession, and create chances from midfield. The defense is a suspect area, with Dejan Lovren known to be inconsistent and the likes of Vedran Corluka and Ivan Strinic getting up there in years.
Who Has Croatia Done in Their Recent Friendlies?
The Croats warmed up with a 2-1 win over Senegal last Friday in a friendly; a few days prior to that, Croatia lost 2-0 to World Cup favorite Brazil. Against Senegal, Ivan Perisic scored in the 63rd minute to tie it and Andrej Kramaric scored the winner in the 78th minute. Kramaric produced a superb all-around performance after coming on as a half-time substitute, injecting life into a toothless Croatian side, which fell behind to an Ismaila Sarr goal in the 48th minute.
Club Brugge defender Matej Mitrovic was the only member of the preliminary squad to be cut for the World Cup tournament.
It’s the first time Croatia has faced Nigeria.
Why Bet on Nigeria?
The Super Eagles head into the global showpiece in uninspiring fashion, with the record of their final three friendlies reading two losses and a draw. But Coach Gernot Rohr has restored stability to Nigeria. The German brought a sense of calm to a team that went through five coaches in two years following the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Nigeria flew through qualifying and was the first team to qualify from the region, seeing off continental champion Cameroon. Nigeria then showcased its qualities by winning a friendly last year against Argentina, its final Group D opponent at the World Cup.
The 2018 edition of the Super Eagles has some veterans to lead this team’s young generation, and there’s quality there from the young guys for the team to make a run to the knockout stage. Nigeria has an array of attacking options that includes Premier League talent in Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa.
How Has Musa’s Performance Been for the Team?
Musa already has 72 appearances for the Super Eagles, despite still being only 25 years old. The CSKA Moscow man, on loan from Leicester City, has 13 goals in his 72 caps, and is known for his devastating pace and ability on the ball, usually from a wide area but sometimes as a central striker. Musa is a star in the Russian league, where he has racked up 61 goals in 180 appearances in all competitions for CSKA. His time in Leicester so far has been uneven.
Goalkeeper remains a concern for Rohr following Vincent Enyeama’s departure from the international scene and Carl Ikeme’s leukemia diagnosis. The coach appears to have lost faith in his initial go-to stopper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, and used 19-year-old Francis Uzoho to start in Nigeria’s recent friendlies. With only 180 minutes of La Liga football under his belt with Deportivo La Coruna, the inexperienced Uzoho is in danger of being exposed in Russia.
Two of the Super Eagles’ four World Cup berths have ended in the Round of 16, including 2014’s 2-0 loss to France. This is a nation which has won a pair of U-17 World Cups in the past five years. These Super Eagles will look to play fast and ruin opponents on the counter by utilizing the raw speed of Musa and Moses.
Last 10 Encounters for Each Team
- November 12, 2017 vs Greece / Draw / Score: 0-0
- November 9, 2017 vs Greece / Win / Score: 4-1
- October 9th, 2017 vs Ukraine / Win / Score: 2-0
- October 6th, 2017 vs Finland / Draw / Score: 1-1
- September 5th, 2017 vs Turkey / Lose / Score: 0-1
- September 2th, 2017 vs Kosovo / Win / Score: 1-0
- June 11th, 2017 vs Iceland / Lose / Score: 0-1
- March 24th, 2017 vs Ukraine / Win / Score: 1-0
- November 12th, 2016 vs Iceland / Win / Score: 2-0
- October 9th, 2016 vs Finland / Win / Score: 1-0
- November 10, 2017 vs Algeria / Draw / Score: 1-1
- October 7th, 2017 vs Zambia / Win / Score: 1-0
- September 4th, 2017 vs Cameroon / Draw / Score: 1-1
- September 1st, 2017 vs Cameroon / Win / Score: 4-0
- November 12th, 2016 vs Algeria / Win / Score: 3-1
- October 9th, 2016 vs Zambia / Win / Score: 2-1
- November 17th, 2015 vs Switzerland / Draw / Score: 0-0
- June 30, 2014 vs France / Lose / Score: 0-2
- June 25th, 2014 vs Argentina / Lose / Score: 2-3
- June 21st, 2014 vs Bosnia and Herzegovina / Win / Score: 1-0
Expert 2018 World Cup Betting Prediction
Croatia wins 2-1 to pick up a big three points.