Croatia defeated Nigeria 2-0 thanks to a first-half own goal and a Luka Modric penalty conversion midway through the second half, a win that puts the European side in first place in the World Cup’s Group D after the opening round-robin matches.
Croatia was superior overall, using its strength in the air and strong midfield play to pressure the African squad.
Even so, Modric’s penalty conversion in the 71st minute was Croatia’s first shot on target to that point of the match, played at Kaliningrad Stadium.
Winger Ivan Perisic had a chance at the 15-minute mark on a three-man play involving FC Barcelona player Ivan Rakitic and star Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic, but his shot sailed over the crossbar.
The Nigerians, meanwhile, looked for chances on the counter-attack, but tactical fouling by the Croatian side prevented them from creating any clear opportunities on the break.
The first score came at the 32-minute mark on a corner kick from the right side that went off the heads of both Mandzukic and Ante Rebic before Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo inadvertently sent it into his own goal.
Croatia then had a chance to double its lead seven minutes later, but a header by Andrej Kramaric off a perfect pass from Rakitic sailed over the crossbar.
The second half saw a more aggressive Nigerian side pushing forward in search of the equalizer but being unable to string any plays together.
Croatia, meanwhile, continued to seek out opportunities through the air while also taking command of midfield through the efforts of Real Madrid star Modric and Rakitic, who clearly outshone Leicester City player Wilfred Ndidi in that part of the pitch.
The second goal came on a penalty that Croatia won when William Troost-Ekong tackled Mandzukic in the area on a corner-kick play.
Modric did the honors from the 12-yard mark, sending the ball past 19-year-old goalkeeper Francis Uzoho in the 71st minute to all but wrap up the victory.
With the win, Croatia is in first place in Group D with three points, while Argentina and Iceland have one apiece after their draw on Saturday and Nigeria has zero.