The match at the Kaliningrad Stadium will be likely be a crucial encounter in terms of who joins Argentina in progressing through to the last 16. This is of course assuming that the group favourites don’t misfire in their opening clash with Iceland.
Lovren, who has been Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s partner of choice for club record signing Virgil van Dijk for much of 2018, is a mainstay in the Croatian defence. He is also now a veteran of international football, having accrued 39 caps since his debut nine years ago. Ultimately Lovren would likely have far more appearances to his name than that but injuries have curtailed several international breaks for him. Croatia to win to zero is 31/20 with RedsBet.
At 28, Lovren is at the peak of his powers. He divides the Liverpool fanbase to say the least but what cannot be disputed is the improvement to his game since Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers. He is capable of putting in 8 out of 10 performances every week only for one lapse in concentration to cause a mistake and inevitably a goal. But before the German came to Anfield, Lovren had not continued the Southampton form that earned him his move and was not looking like value for money at £18m.
However, after a series of strong, confident performances in the business end of the season the Croat can look forward to his chance to shine on the world stage in a bumper day of football. For all his critics (me included at times) I actually thought Lovren was outstanding in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid in Kiev.
Defensively we were absolutely rock solid which sounds crazy given we ultimately conceded three, but that was down to two goalkeeping howlers and a world class goal worthy of winning any game. I was impressed with how Lovren managed to snuff out the Real threat.
Nigeria of course are a different prospect and this may not be one of Lovren’s busier games. What the Super Eagles have in enthusiasm and a boss kit (Croatia don’t lack in this department either), they lack in quality. Even though Nigeria have a strong Premier League core of players, Croatia should have too much for their African counterparts.
One thing to note however is that Nigeria’s attack will likely be spearheaded by former Watford striker Odion Ighalo who has been a thorn in Liverpool’s side in the past. He is a big target man and Lovren will need to defend on the front foot against him. It should be a very interesting battle but he’ll have nothing to fear after playing so well for the Reds when the pressure was on at the end of the season.
Even though he has only scored two goals for his country, Lovren to score at 25/1 for either first or last goal is an interesting proposition given Croatia will have the delivery of Luka Modric to depend upon. Even more so, to score any time at 18/1, which is a RedsBet special offer, is a tantalising prospect.
Of course, it is what the central defender does at the other end of the pitch where he will be judged. Croatia are a better team than Nigeria but this is a crucial clash for both teams should they wish to reach the knock out phase. I think Croatia will edge a tight, tense match 1-0. Croatia to win 1-0 is 5/1.