Modric upbeat ahead of Argentina clash after beating Nigeria

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(Oghenekaro Etebo 32-og, Luka Modric  70-pen)  

Croatia midfielder Luka Modric suggested that his team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria on Sunday morning (Singapore time) had turned up the heat on Group D favourites Argentina who were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland earlier.

Modric scored a second-half penalty to secure the win after Croatia went ahead through a first-half own goal by Nigeria midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo. The result left the European side top of the group ahead of Iceland and Argentina, whom they face in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday morning (June 22, Singapore time).

“They (Argentina) have quality but this win will boost our confidence and I hope we can play well against them,” said Modric, who excelled in his role as a playmaker.

“It is going to be a difficult match. Maybe against the favourites in our group... but they will have to play for a win because of the scoreline today that they never expected.”

Argentina’s talisman Lionel Messi missed a penalty as the South Americans played out a disappointing 1-1 draw against spirited World Cup debutants Iceland.

Asked if he was nervous before his own spot-kick, Man of the Match Modric said: “I wasn’t... I was focused on scoring. Thank God that I scored. Nothing more to say about that really.”

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic shrugged off the fact that both the team’s scoring opportunities resulted from set-pieces.

“A win is a win. Corners and penalties are part of football,” he said.

“What is important is that you score. There was luck there but we earned it. We want to be more attacking but we are not going to split hairs about how we scored.

“There’s still much work to be done to emerge from the group but these three points are extremely important. We can’t let our guard down. Nothing is over. We have to now think of Argentina.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr admitted his young team had been “naive” in their loss, continuing a dismal recent record at World Cups.

The Super Eagles – who brought the youngest squad to Russia – have now won just one of their last 13 games on football’s biggest stage.

“We are disappointed but we must recognise Croatia were better tonight and my young players made some mistakes,” Rohr said.

Nigeria’s average age heading into Russia was a little over 25 years old and at times the experience gap showed.

Rohr kept faith in 19-year-old keeper Francis Uzoho, but the Deportivo stopper’s first real action was picking the ball out of the net.

Just after the half-hour mark, Mario Mandzukic, industrious in his hold-up play, chested a Andrej Kramaric cross back to Ante Rebic, whose fizzing shot was blocked. The resulting corner saw Rebic return the favour with a near-post flick on met by a diving Mandzukic.

Etebo, up until that point one of Nigeria’s best performers, was wrong-footed and bundled into his own net.

All in our hands

Nigeria responded well, with Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi’s shot from a cleared free-kick blocked on 45 minutes and his Premier League colleague Victor Moses shooting wide from 30 metres on the stroke of half-time.

They had the best of the start of the second period, forcing Croatia to bat away three corners in succession, before Moses again snatched a shot wide of Danjiel Subasic’s left upright.

But just as Nigeria showed some signs of life, in the 71st minute, William Ekong held down Mandzukic from a cross in the area and referee Sandro Ricci immediately pointed to the spot.

Modric’s gilded right foot guided it to Uzoho’s right side.

“We didn’t concede a goal from open play, only from set-pieces so this is not a question of tactics,” Rohr said.

“Sometimes, we were a little bit naive on set-pieces but we will work on it.”

Nigeria play Iceland on June 22 in Volgograd and Rohr insisted his team could still make it out of what is a highly competitive group.

“We are only one point behind (Iceland) and all is in our hands so let’s be positive. Let them learn from this defeat and try to do better,” said the former Bordeaux coach. – AFP, REUTERS