ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic said on Wednesday he was optimistic about Croatia’s chances in the 2018 World Cup in Russia but stressed the importance of the team getting off to a strong start in its first Group D game against Nigeria.
Speaking at a press conference at Roschino Arena, the team’s base camp training site outside Saint Petersburg, the 30-year-old said the European side needed to come out with an aggressive mindset in that opening contest on Saturday in the western city of Kaliningrad, adding that “the most important thing now are those three points.”
Croatia, which boasts stars like Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic, FC Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, has demonstrated its strong potential, especially in midfield and attack, he said.
“We certainly have very high quality offensive players and we shouldn’t be afraid. It’s important that we play well and create opportunities for our attackers,” Kalinic added.
The striker cautioned, however, that the Nigerians were a dangerous side and compared them to Senegal, which Croatia defeated 2-1 in a friendly last Friday.
“I think they’re very similar teams that especially look to counter-attack. It’s true that against Senegal we weren’t at our highest level. If we play at our level against Nigeria, there’s no doubt we’ll win,” Kalinic said.
Croatia’s final two round-robin matches will be against Lionel Messi and Argentina on June 21 and versus Euro 2016 quarterfinalist Iceland on June 26.