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Opposition scouting report: How can Nigeria beat Croatia?

Group D has the potential to be one of the tightest in the tournament, with the traditional heavyweights battling internal concerns and the would-be underdogs cultivating decent reasons for optimism.

You sense that every game - and every point - will matter in this group, and as such, it's imperative that Nigeria avoid defeat when they face Croatia in Kaliningrad in Saturday's group opener.

In this feature, Queens Park Rangers opposition analyst and ex-Zambia assistant coach Irfan Kawri offers his advice for Gernot Rohr on how to take all three points from the Eastern Europeans.

How can Nigeria neutralise Croatia's strengths?

In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia boast two of the world's finest central midfielders, with the pair both used to dominating matches with Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

It's imperative that Rohr gets his midfield personnel decisions right and ensures they remain compact, reduce the space and close down Modric and Rakitic effectively.

Either Ogenyi Onazi or, likely, Oghenekaro Etebo will have to keep the intensity up and ensure the Super Eagles press intensely and deny Modric and Rakitic the time to influence the contest as they surely can.

Similarly, Wilfred Ndidi will have a key role to play at the base of the midfield, reading the through-balls from the Clasico duo and cutting off the supply line to Modric and Rakitic.

It might also be wise to give Ndidi a man-marking brief on Modric.

Against England, Nigeria's midfield were disorganised, weren't compact with a good block nor pressing early and coherently.

If there's similar uncertainty against Croatia, they'll likely begin their World Cup campaign with a defeat.

How can Nigeria exploit Croatia's weakness?

Worryingly for Rohr, there aren't too many glaring weaknesses about this Croatia side heading into the tournament, with most of the pre-tournament worries having focused on their internal strife.

With this in mind, Nigeria would do well to ensure they start strongly, to put the pressure on the Europeans early and to test their resolve and team spirit.

This doesn't mean opening up - an early Croatian goal would help them settle quickly - but the Eagles must frustrate their opponents, let them know they're in a game, and keep probing that defensive unit.

Perhaps Croatia's defence could be considered an area of weakness heading into this one.

Dejan Lovren endured several high-profile lapses at Liverpool this season, and is capable of an error or two.

It's down to birthday boy Odion Ighalo to keep the pressure on him and force the centre-back into another mistake.

Conclusion

Nigeria certainly have their work cut out to begin their World Cup campaign with a positive result on Saturday, but it's definitely not impossible, even if significant improvement is needed from their pre-tournament friendlies.

First of all, it's imperative they silence Rakitic and Modric, and assert their authority over the midfield - this will be half the battle.

After that, they must keep the pressure on a Croatian side who have some internal issues and, in Lovren, a weak link who can be exploited.

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