Modric warns Argentina of threat from victors Croatia

Nigeria defender William Troost-Ekong (No. 5) getting too close for comfort with Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic for the referee's liking, leading to a penalty awarded from which Luka Modric scored to seal Croatia's 2-0 win on Saturday. An earlier ow
Nigeria defender William Troost-Ekong (No. 5) getting too close for comfort with Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic for the referee's liking, leading to a penalty awarded from which Luka Modric scored to seal Croatia's 2-0 win on Saturday. An earlier own goal had given the Croats the lead.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KALININGRAD (Russia) • The World Cup is less than a week old, but the heat is already on Group D favourites Argentina, according to Luka Modric after he masterminded Croatia's 2-0 win over Nigeria on Saturday.

The 32-year-old playmaker scored a second-half penalty to secure the three points. Croatia had led from a first-half own goal by Nigeria midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo.

It left the Croats as front-runners ahead of Iceland and Argentina after they drew 1-1. They face the South Americans in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday night.

"Argentina have quality, but this win will boost our confidence," said man-of-the-match Modric. "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 (drawn game) that they never expected."

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. "We want to be more attacking, but we are not going to split hairs about how we scored."

  • 9%

  • Nigeria's win rate (1 in 11) at the World Cup dating back to the 2002 edition.

His counterpart Gernot Rohr admitted his young team had been "naive" in their defeat. "We didn't concede a goal from open play, only from set pieces so this is not a question of tactics," he said. "Sometimes we were a little bit naive on set pieces but we will work on it."

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.

They fell behind just after the half-hour when Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic's header was accidentally bundled in by Etebo.

Nigeria responded well with Premier League stars Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses going close but, just as their team showed some signs of life, William Ekong fouled Mandzukic in the 71st minute and referee Sandro Ricci signalled a spot kick which Modric converted.

Elsewhere in Saransk, Denmark's Yussuf Poulsen made amends after conceding a first-half penalty - blazed over the crossbar by Peru midfielder Christian Cueva - to score a second-half winning goal and seal a 1-0 victory.

"It was an emotional game, especially for me after giving away the penalty," said Poulsen, 24.

"I thought I was the bad guy, but then I was the good guy after scoring - that's the way football is.

"I'm grateful, we fought very well and gave it everything we had."

Peru are playing in their first World Cup Finals in 36 years and the loss also ended their 15-match unbeaten run. Coach Ricardo Gareca demanded a response from his players ahead of Thursday's clash against France.

"The result doesn't really reflect what happened on the pitch, but football is all about being effective," said Gareca. "We had an enormous amount of fans and it was sad they came so far to see us lose, they deserved at least a draw.

"We didn't deserve to lose, but we can't cry over spilt milk."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Modric warns Argentina of threat from victors Croatia'. Print Edition | Subscribe