Croatia stay in the hunt as Cameroon implode
All-or-nothing clash looms with Mexico after striker Mario Mandzukic makes big impact in 4-0 drubbing
A far cry from the talented side that reached the 1998 World Cup semi-finals, Croatia showed they still meant business in Brazil with a 4-0 rout of toothless Cameroon on Wednesday to stay in contention for the knockout stages.
To earn their first berth in the last 16 since stunning the world in their first World Cup campaign as an independent nation 16 years ago, the Croatians will in all probability need to beat Mexico in their final group A clash in Recife on Monday.
Coach Niko Kovac said his side would have to improve on their occasionally casual defending and slack finishing against Cameroon to have any chance of progressing.
“We let (Cameroon) have too many chances and we still have much potential left,” he said. “It will be important for the team to get a good rest before the Mexico game because they are an aggressive and strength-sapping team.
The result left the Croatians third in group A on three points from two games, one behind Brazil and Mexico.
Evergreen 34-year old striker Ivica Olic rolled back the years to put Croatia ahead after 11 minutes, becoming his country’s oldest scorer in the World Cup when he swept home a sharp low drive by Perisic.
Cameroon, who cannot now qualify after losing their first two games, were reduced to 10 men five minutes before half-time when Alex Song was shown a straight red for needlessly hitting Mario Mandzukic.
The robust striker, helped by a mature performance from playmaker Luka Modric who shrugged off a painful foot injury, then stole the show after Ivan Perisic seized on a poor clearance by Cameroon keeper Charles Itandje to make it 2-0.
WATCH: Croatia take the lead
Back after suspension ruled him out of the tournament’s opening 3-1 defeat by Brazil, Mandzukic headed the third on his World Cup debut just after an hour and tapped in his second as Croatia strolled to a comfortable victory.
“I was well prepared and had more time to prepare because I missed the first game. I had some extra training,” said Mandzukic, who got a red card in the play-offs. “I don’t want to think too much about goals. We wanted to win, and the goals came as a reward.”
Kovac lavished praise on Mandzukic, saying: “Any coach would be happy to have such a player in his team. He is not just a goal-getter – his attitude picks the team up and affects the opposing side.
“The fact he scored twice shows how important he is for this team and what kind of service the team can expect from him,” he said.
Indeed, Kovac suggested the Brazil result could have been different had the 28-year-old striker played.
“What is for sure is that with a player such as Mario this (result) would have looked different,” he said.
WATCH: Ivan Perisic scores in the 48th minute
WATCH: Mario Mandzukic scores his first goal
WATCH: Mario Mandzukic adds the icing on the cake
A pale shadow of the side that reached the 1990 tournament’s quarter-finals, Cameroon, who have won only one game in their last five World Cups, finished in disarray with defender Benoit Assou Ekotto appearing to head-butt teammate Benjamin Moukandjo.
“It’s unimaginable. I saw this happen and I need to find out exactly what happened, why exactly these two players exploded,” Cameroon coach Volker Finke said. “I really hate to see that. It’s not the image of Cameroon I want to project.
“This hurts, a result like this. I know it’s hard to play 11 versus 10 but it’s not necessary to lose control like that,” said Finke.
“We have to look forward because in this team I think there are also some players for the future."