The Super Eagles of Nigeria were beaten 2-0 by Croatia in their opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
An Oghenekaro Etebo own goal in the first half and a penalty by Luca Modric in the second gave Croatia the three points to top Group D following the 1-1 draw between Argentina and Iceland earlier in the day.
These are five things we learnt from the Super Eagles loss
1. Shehu not to be trusted
Super Eagles boss Gernot Rohr surprised many when he included Shehu Abdullahi in his starting XI for the game against Croatia.
Shehu was poor in Super Eagles last two friendly games ahead of the World Cup while Tyronne Ebuehi showed to be a better option at right back.
Against Croatia, Rohr’s decision to start with Shehu backfired as the defender was an obvious weakness in the Super Eagles.
In the first half, he was easily beaten as he struggled to cope with the pace of the game. And offered nothing going forward.
In his two years as Super Eagles boss, Rohr has consistently picked his trusted men and that has ultimately become one of his weakness. He has to drop Shehu and bring in Ebuehi for the next game.
2. Uzoho can’t pass
Pep Guardiola’s first act as Manchester City boss in 2016 was to get rid of club legendary goalkeeper Joe Hart for Claudio Bravo.
He later splashed the huge cash for Elderson and these moves have been to get a goalkeeper that can play from the back.
Initially, it was regarded just as one of Guardiola’s complexities and obsessions but Manchester City success in the just concluded season have shown that goalkeepers can do more.
Uzoho has not done badly in his primary job although he remains a suspect. But as it has become important for goalkeepers to contribute to attack and pass well from the back, the Nigerian goalkeeper has not been updated.
The Super Eagles do not play possession-based games and it will be important if a goalkeeper can properly launch specific balls into the opposition’s half.
Against Croatia, none of Uzoho’s clearance, goal kicks and even passes got to a teammate, instead, he shoots just anywhere and the Croatians pick up to launch another attack.
3. Mikel needs to be sacrificed
Mikel started on the base of Nigeria’s three-man midfield, operating just behind Odion Ighalowho was flanked by Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi.
But the Super Eagles captain had a poor day without offering much. He didn’t keep possession well, he lacked the skills, he didn’t bring energy to the midfield, he had no legs and wasn’t a defensive asset for the Super Eagles.
For the majority of the game, Mikel didn’t get close to Ighalo, leaving Nigeria’s number nine on his own up front. He rarely even got to the opposition’s box.
For the two remaining group game, Mikel must be sacrificed and Rohr has to have the balls to do it.
Either take his captain backwards to join Ndidi in shielding the defence or drop him ultimately.
Iwobi is clearly the most creative player in the team and should be given the freedom to roam in midfield.
4. Set piece a huge worry for the Super Eagles
For the third consecutive game, the Super Eagles have conceded a goal from a set-piece and this is now a huge worry for Gernot Rohr.
Gary Cahill and Tomas Kalas both scored for England and The Czech Republic respectively against the Super Eagles in Nigeria’s last two warm-up games before the World Cup.
In the 2-0 loss to Serbia in March, the Serbs got chances off all of their corners.
Against Croatia, the Super Eagles were poor in these situations again, failing to get on the first ball in the box and also the second.
The goal came from a corner, with Rebic jumping the highest to get the first ball before Mario Mandzukic pounced on the rebound which was deflected off for Croatia’s opener.
5. Opening fixture head for Super Eagles again
The Super Eagles have now failed to win their opening game of a World Cup in their last four appearances.
The last time the Super Eagles won their first game of a World Cup campaign was 20 years ago in France 1998.
Their 2-0 loss to Croatia is also the first time Nigeria are losing to a European side in the opening game of the World Cup. Their two wins in their opening day of a World Cup campaign have been against European opposition but no luck this time.
The Super Eagles have now lost their last seven World Cup games when conceding the first goal.
This was Croatia’s first win in an opening game of a World Cup campaign in 20 years. The last time they won their first game of the World Cup was during their debut in France 1998.