Croatia were too strong for the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a Group D World Cup match, winning 2-0 at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday night.
Nigeria got an early chance to put a teasing ball into the box from a Victor Moses free kick, but Dejan Lovren rose highest to head clear under pressure from Alex Iwobi.
The Super Eagles appeared to have settled comfortably, but Ivan Perisic gave them a wake-up call as he scampered away on the break down the left channel.
The winger turned a ball into the middle towards Mario Mandzukic, although William Troost-Ekong was able to clear.
Jeers rung out around the ground as Croatia stepped off the gas and allowed Nigeria to move the ball slickly across the deck. Nigeria do not look too perturbed, however.
Nigeria claimed a free kick just inside the Croatia half and the Eagles looked to bypass the build-up play by sending a long ball into the box from Moses. Croatia stood firm, though, as Domagoj Vida headed clear.
Luka Modric drove in off the left flank before feeding a ball into Ante Rebic.
The frontman stopped the pass dead on the edge of the box, allowing Perisic to drive onto the set ball. The Inter Milan man opened up to lash a testing shot that flew just inches over the crossbar.
Andrej Kramaric was beginning to tick as he turned and drove at the Nigeria defence, before being brought down by Leon Balogun on the edge of the area.
Modric sent the free kick towards the back post, where Francis Uzoho came coolly off his line to gather and thwart the danger.
Nigeria moved forward with a rare counter down the right channel. Iwobi cut inside into the box before seeing his shot blocked by Vrsaljko.
Glimmers of Croatian quality was just starting to cut through. Rebic did brilliantly down in the right corner to get the better of Bryan Idowu with some clever feet, however the resulting cross into the mixer was a tame one leaving Troost-Ekong to clear.
In the 32nd minute, the Blades went in front. This had to hurt for the Nigerians. Croatia sent a corner into the middle of the box where Manduzkic was able to get a head onto the cross.
The effort looked to be flying wide of the far post, but it soon cannoned into Oghenekaro Etebo and past a helpless Uzoho. This game needed a goal although that was a tough one to take for the African side.
Croatia had at times threatened but they are fortunate to go in front. Dalic’s men responded by taking possession and knocked the ball around the back as they tried to consolidate the lead.
Kramaric had been the real spark for the Croatians. In the 38th minute, the forward showed some skill on the right to beat Wilfred Ndidi, although the eventual cross into the box was headed away at the first time of asking by Leon Balogun.
Late in the first half, Moses showed great feet on the right and he was able to buy a timely free kick off Rebic, leaving Nigeria with a free kick in a promising position.
The Chelsea man sent the ball in where it wad soon cleared into the path of Iwobi on the edge of the area. The winger put his laces through it only to see Lovren pull off a rather special block to protect goalkeeper Danijel Subasic from being tested.
A bright start to the second half saw Nigeria scampered forward to win a corner. The set-piece was sent towards the front post for Balogun, leaving Perisic to make a vital challenge and preventef the defender from having a free header at goal.
There was certainly more energy from the Eagles early on. Moses broke off the right to collect Etebo’s cunning pass, but the winger dragged his shot wide of the near post without testing Subasic.
Croatia should have doubled the lead. Perisic crafted the most wonderful cross from the left flank to find Rebic in the middle of the box.
The striker opened up to send a finish beyond Uzoho, before seeing his effort somehow flew over the bar. That was a borderline sitter for the youngster.
Left-back Idowu was given too much space on the wing and the Nigerian sent a smart ball into the box. Ighalo won it but the effort flew straight into the grasp of Subasic.
The Croats earned a penalty in the 72nd minute. Absolute madness from Nigeria and this just about summed up a confusing showing from the Eagles.
A cross came into the box and for some unknown reason Troost-Ekong decided to wrap Mandzukic up in a full-nelson hold.
The referee spotted it with ease and signaled straight for a penalty. Modric stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way and essentially sealed three points for Dalic’s side.
Nigeria finally started to show some of that energy but it was too late as they lost 2-0.