The unexpected draw between Argentina and Iceland handed both Croatia and Nigeria the opportunity to go top of Group D in the World Cup.
The group was blown wide open by the result, but only Croatia looked anywhere near good enough to take the initiative.
A dour first half, in which both teams failed to muster a single shot on target, saw the deadlock broken after a half hour in cruel fashion.
Luka Modric sent in a corner which was met by Ante Rebic. The Eintract Frankfurt winger flicked it on towards Mario Mandzukic, whose header went off the unfortunate Oghenekaro Etebo into the Nigerian net.
Nigeria showed more urgency coming out after the break, but the quality was coming yet again from the Croatians.
Former Watford star, Odion Ighalo, did get a header on target an hour into the game, but with no pace put on it towards the centre of the goal, it was an easy save for the untested Danijel Subasic.
The Nigerians brought on Leicester City striker Ahmed Musa in place of Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, but the poor service to their frontline continued.
With 20 minutes left, Mandzukic was blatantly brought down in the box by a near-chokehold from William Troost-Ekong. Modric, fresh off a Champions League win with Real Madrid, slotted the penalty home to the goalkeeper’s right.
Another Leicester player in Kelechi Iheanacho came off the bench in an effort to salvage something from the tie, but it was still Croatia who looked more likely to score.
The tie as a contest petered out, with Zlatko Dalic’s side running out 2-0 winners to top the group after the first round of fixtures. The victors face Argentina next in what is a must-win clash on Thursday evening, while Nigeria look to get points on the board against Iceland on Friday afternoon.