Soccer / World Cup

Luka Modric leads charge as Croatia beats Nigeria

AP

Even in a more defensive role, Luka Modric can still lead the attack.

The Croatia midfielder scored one goal and set up the other in his team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria on Saturday at the World Cup.

Modric sent in a corner that was headed by two teammates and then deflected into the net by Nigeria midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo in the 32nd minute.

“We scored at the perfect moment. After that it was easier for us to play our game,” Modric said. “After the first goal we started creating chances.”

Modric later converted a penalty in the 71st after William Ekong held onto Mario Mandzukic. It was the fifth penalty awarded in four World Cup matches on Saturday.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr felt his team also deserved a penalty.

“There were also so many fouls in the other box, they could have also given a penalty for us,” Rohr said.

Croatia, with Modric and Ivan Rakitic controlling the midfield, dominated most of the match and rarely allowed Nigeria to get close to goal. It took nearly an hour for the Nigerians to have an effort on target — a header by Odion Ighalo straight at goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.

Croatia now leads Group D with three points and next plays Argentina on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod. Nigeria will take on Iceland a day later in Volgograd.

“We have the youngest team in this World Cup,” Rohr said. “Let them learn from this match, from this defeat.”

In Kazan, France was aided twice by technology as the 1998 champions labored to beat a gritty Australia 2-1 in their opening game.

The French team was given a controversial penalty kick, eventually converted by Antoine Griezmann in the 58th minute, after the referee watched the replay of a foul on the sideline.

Paul Pogba later scored the winning goal in the 81st minute, and goal-line technology was used to confirm the ball had crossed the line after bouncing down off the crossbar.

“I’m not going to complain about the use of video today,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It helped correct a mistake.”

Pogba had been unimpressive until the goal, but the Manchester United midfielder set up a 1-2 with substitute Olivier Giroud and beat Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan to give France the victory.

Australia captain Mile Jedinak had briefly equalized from the penalty spot in the 62nd, after France defender Samuel Umtiti handled the ball in the area.

After a balanced first half in the Group C match at the Kazan Arena, France was awarded the first penalty following a VAR review. After checking images of a tackle from behind by Joshua Risdon on Griezmann, referee Andres Cunha pointed to the penalty spot.

“When I received the knock I believed there was a penalty,” Griezmann said. “The referee did not bow his whistle, so I moved on with that. But when he went to see if there was a penalty I immediately thought about how I would take it.”

In Saransk, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel made a World Cup debut reminiscent of the way his father, Peter, played for Denmark and Manchester United, as he made Yussuf Poulsen’s opportunistic second-half goal stand in a 1-0 victory over Peru.

“It’s good to have a good goalkeeper, let me put it that way,” Denmark coach Age Hareide said. “He is acrobatic and a very quick goalkeeper. He had a fantastic performance and we needed it. You have to acknowledge the performance of Kasper today.”

Poulsen squeezed his goal between charging Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and the left post in the 59th minute after collecting an angled pass from midfielder Christian Eriksen.

The victory gave Denmark a crucial advantage in Group C, in which France defeated Australia earlier in the day.