Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr was blown away by the talent and skills of Croatia’s La Liga stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in the Super Eagles’ 2-0 defeat to the Eastern European country in their Russia 2018 World Cup Opener at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Saturday and the German is not hiding it.
The Blazers manager Zlatko Dalic opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Real Madrid attacking midfielder Modric and Barcelona attacking midfielder Rakitic dropping deep to nullify the threat being offered by Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi to link Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ante, Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric and Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic in the attack.
Four-time UEFA Champions League winner Modric, 32, was voted the Man-of-the-Match, with Barcelona regular Rakitic earning a lot of plaudits with his play.
Each time Rakitic turned up the Croats looked like they were going to hit the back of the net. Kramaric nearly nodded home Croatia’s second goal when Rakitic, operating from the left, curled in an inviting cross in one of his runs.
Speaking at a post-match press conference, Rohr, who launched a stinging attack against his team for conceding from set-pieces twice, however said Modric and Rakitic made all the difference.
“It’s not easy playing against Modric and Rakitic when you see the clubs where they play and then the clubs where our players play,” the former Gabon coach said.
The veteran manager defended his 4-2-3-1 tactic for the match, saying it was aimed at nullifying Dalic’s attack.
Rohr said, “We cannot play with three (defenders) when there is only one centre-forward, so we played with four because Croatia had three strikers. What we were missing was to be more professional on set-pieces.
“Each game is different, we will see for the next game (against Iceland on June 22). We know we can play with three centre-backs (3-5-2) but today was not that day.”
Despite his team capitalising on the Eagles’ naivety to pick up all three points in the clash, Dalic said he was happy they won.
“A win is a win,” he said at the post-match press conference.
“Corners and penalties are part of football. It doesn’t matter how you score, it matters that you score. We earned our luck. We want to be more efficient in attack but we are not going to split hairs about the way we scored.
“It was a difficult match against an excellent opponent. We were disciplined and we deservedly won.”