3 Takeaways from Nigeria’s loss to Croatia

One own-goal and one penalty was more than enough to condemn Nigeria to defeat against Croatia in their opening game of the 2018 World Cup on Saturday in Kaliningrad.

It was not the start Gernot Rohr and his players had hoped for, but it was one they deserved as familiar failings returned to haunt the team in a performance that was as lethargic as it was painful.

Here are three observations from a disappointing night for Nigeria…

Set-pieces. The eternal curse of the Super Eagles.

In their friendly games, Nigeria conceded almost a goal a game from set-pieces. A free-kick from Ever Banega, Gary Cahill’s header from a corner-kick, and Tomas Kalas for the Czech Republic.

At the beginning of their World Cup opening game against Croatia, it looked like that deficiency had been addressed as the Super Eagles repelled the Croats’ early corner-kicks with some ease.

But it was asking too much for that to carry on for even a full 45 minutes. Leon Balogun made the mistake of heading one into his six-yard box, and Mario Mandzukic wasted no time flying in with a diving header and Oghenekaro Etebohaplessly deflected it into his own net. It was a basic error and one which weeks of training camp should have eliminated.

Things were to get even worse in the second half. William Troost-Ekong somehow thought that wrestling Mandzukic to the ground was a good tactic to defend a corner-kick. It wasn’t. But it sure was a good way to give away a penalty-kick.

Teams will continue to see that as an area of weakness and exploit it, and the Super Eagles need to find a way to resolve that if they are to stop being taken advantage of.


For a team with a core of young players, the Super Eagles consistently failed to use the one asset they should be good at, pace on the counter-attack.

Time after time, the team broke forward on transitions, but each time they ended up passing the ball back and trying to build from the back, allowing the Croats to regroup and close down the channels.

If their 2018 World Cup journey is not to end early, Gernot Rohr needs to get his team counter-attacking with pace and menace.

Nigeria earned praise for their second half performance in a 4-2 win against Argentina in November. It was a similar story against Poland, Serbia, England and Czech Republic.

One each occasion, the team revved up their game to another gear and kept the opposition on the back foot.

One common thread in all of those second half displays was that Rohr switched to a back three, which begs the question: If the back three with midfield superiority can be so successful and yield goals, why not switch?

That is a question that Rohr will need to answer…

Article sourced from ESPN

Photo Credits- Getty images

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