Super Eagles of Nigeria will be hoping to begin their 2018 World Cup quest on a winning note as they face Croatia in Group D opening fixture at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday.
The team which qualified for the Mundial unbeaten in the African zone qualifiers have had contrasting results in some warm-up matches played so far as they managed to win two, lose three and drawn one of their last six games.
Likewise, since qualifying, the Croats have registered two wins and as many defeats in international friendlies, keeping only one clean sheet during that run and finding the net three times.
However, Nigeria knows a victory against Croatia could boost the confidence of the players before facing Iceland and Argentina respectively.
Super Eagles technical adviser, Gernot Rohr will be banking on star players such as Mikel Obi, Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Odion Ighalo to shoulder the goalscoring responsibilities against Croatian side blessed with world-class talent such as Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic among their ranks.
Their record at World Cup finals, however, has been shaky in recent tournaments as the Blades have not progressed through the group stage since 1998 when they finished in third place.
Meanwhile, Croatia and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić is wary of the Nigeria team ahead of their World Cup opener in Kaliningrad on Saturday evening.
”We know how important it is to have a good tournament, and we have to do everything to beat Nigeria, even though nothing has been resolved,” Rakitic said.
”We know they’re a dangerous team with good players, we have to be ready. We know that everyone is expecting to be right, we first, I’m confident we will be ready.”
Also, Super Eagles Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr declared that Nigeria are “physically and mentally ready” for their first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals coming up on Saturday against Croatia.
“We are looking forward to the match with a lot of optimism. It will be a tough one, but we are physically and mentally ready. We had quality preparatory matches and trained twice at our final camp in Austria, and since arriving in Essentuki, we have done some useful tactical preparation.
“It is important to start well in a good tournament like this, and that is what we hope to do on Saturday,” Rohr said.
Croatia: Danijel Subasic; Sime Vrsaljko, Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Ivan Strinic; Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic; Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Ante Rebic; Mario Mandzukic
Nigeria: Francis Uzoho; Brian Idowu, Shehu Abdullahi, Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong; Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, John Obi Mikel; Odion Ighalo