KALININGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Nigeria suffered from a bit of growing pains on Saturday when the young Super Eagles were schooled in set pieces by Croatia who shot to the top of Group D with a 2-0 win in their World Cup opener.
One of the youngest teams in the tournament with an average of just over 26, the Super Eagles displayed plenty of youthful energy but some of it was misplaced during a physical clash that allowed Croatia to score from set pieces.
A veteran Croatia side put their experience to good use as Luka Modric, featuring in his third World Cup, played a part in both of their goals.
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 which flowed in from a corner kick by the Real Madrid midfielder.
“When you lose a match it is something we don’t like but we recognise that Croatia had the better team tonight and my young players made some mistakes,” said Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr. “The first goal is coming on a corner, the second one also on a corner and a penalty.
“I think these young players need time to learn, sometime they were a little bit naive on the set pieces but we will work on it.”
Nigeria next face an even smaller football nation with big ambitions when they next meet Iceland in a match that could determine which team advances.
Tiny Iceland sent a shock through the World Cup earlier on Saturday when they battled twice champions Argentina to a 1-1 draw.
“We have to accept this defeat and now we have to win against Iceland, all is possible still,” said Rohr. “If we win the next game all is possible for the qualification.
“We were satisfied with the organisation of the team defensively but we didn’t have so many opportunities to score.
“You need to make at least four points if you want to be qualified, nothing is lost all is in our hands so let’s be positive we believe we can do it.
“We have the youngest team in the world at this World Cup, let them learn from this match.
“I think we can do better than what we did today.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar