Croatia and Nigeria open their World Cup 2018 Group D campaigns in Kaliningrad on Saturday and although Croatia are odds on favourites, this still looks a really tricky game to call
Group D also includes Argentina and Iceland and you can read our outright preview for this quartet here.
Croatia came through the European play offs, beating Greece 4-1 on aggregate over 2 legs. They earned that play off spot after finishing as runners up in their group, 2 points behind Iceland with Ukraine and Turkey missing out. Their record in the qualifying group comprised of 6 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats scoring 15 goals and conceding 4. They will bump into Iceland again later in this group and given Argentina also lie in wait, this looks a really competitive group.
Croatia’s most recent major tournament finals came in Euro 2016. They came through a tough group with 2 wins and 1 draw before bowing out in the first knockout round, losing 1-0 to Portugal in extra time.
In the World Cup 2014 finals Croatia failed to make it out of their group after losing 3-1 to Brazil and Mexico either side of a 4-0 victory over Cameroon.
Recent friendly international results include a 2-1 win over Senegal and 2-0 defeat to Brazil. Back in March they beat Mexico 1-0 but lost 2-0 to Peru.
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Milan), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka).
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Nikola Kalinic (AC Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Juventus), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina).
Nigeria topped their African region group finishing 6 points clear of Zambia and given they also had Algeria and AFCON 2017 winners Cameroon for company that represents decent form. They were unbeaten with 4 wins and 2 draws, scoring 12 goals and conceding just 4.
We didn’t see the Super Eagles in the AFCON 2017 finals and in the 2014 World Cup finals they made it through a group which also included Argentina before bowing out 2-0 to France in the first knockout round. In South Africa 2010 Argentina were again a group stage opponent and Nigeria managed to take just 1 point from 3 matches to exit the tournament early.
Recent friendly form is not encouraging with 4 defeats and 1 draw in the last 5 and earlier this month they lost 2-1 to England and 1-0 to Czech Republic.
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).
Defenders: William Troost-Ekong, Abdullahi Shehu (both Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Benfica), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Porto), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea).
Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense), John Ogu (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino, Italy).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho (both Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone).
Recent Head to Head
The Betting - Bet Now
Note, odds quoted are an approximate average and are correct at the time of last update but are subject to change
The team sheet suggests Croatia possess the greater quality and big tournament pedigree but on qualifying form I would not be rushing in to back them at this price.
Although the Super Eagles recent friendly results would be of some concern I think they could be tough to beat and with both sides mindful of Argentina being the group favourites, a draw here gets my vote.
Bets: Match Result Draw 26/10
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