Nigeria were unbeaten through qualifying, but their wing-based approach looks to have been found out by better teams recently as they’ve lost three of their last four friendlies.
Croatia, meanwhile, struggled on their way to reaching the World Cup, needing to come through the play-offs, but they’ve recorded decent wins against Senegal and Mexico in the build-up and there are signs that Zlatko Dalic is finding a way to get the best out of the likes of Modric, Rakitic and Perisic.
If it comes together for Croatia then they are one of the most dangerous outsiders in the competition, as they showed in beating Spain in the group stages at Euro 2016.
They’ve won eight of their last 10 matches against teams from outside the two leading confederations (Europe and South America) while since 2002 European nations have won 20 of 35 group stage matches at World Cups against African countries (W20-D8-L7). The Croatia win looks a good bet but the win to nil is worth considering given six of their last seven competitive wins have come that way.
Furthermore, Nigeria have scored just five times in their last eight matches as they’ve adopted a particularly cautious approach. The Super Eagles have conceded more than twice in just one of their last 47 matches however, so we don’t expect a goal-fest and with nine of Croatia’s last 11 matches having fewer than three goals the ‘unders’ looks an absolute banker.
With that in mind we much prefer the look of the first scorer market than the anytime scorer one. And there is one clear favourite: Mario Mandzukic top scored for Croatia in qualifying with five strikes – three more than anyone else – and he also has five in eight previous matches at major tournaments, so he’s worth backing to get the opener here.