Mario Mandzukic scored a second-half double on his return from suspension as Croatia maintained their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup with an easy 4-0 victory over 10-man Cameroon on Wednesday at the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil.
Cameroon started brightly but went behind to Ivica Olic's 11th-minute opener against the run of play. The Africans were then reduced to 10 men in the 40th minute after Alex Song lashed out at Mandzukic, who was making his return to the side following a one-match suspension for being sent off in UEFA's World Cup qualifying play-offs.
Ivan Perisic doubled Croatia's lead early in the second half following a poor clearance by Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje. Mandzukic then sealed the points with goals in the 61st and 73rd minutes.
The win took Croatia onto three points in Group A, one behind co-leaders Brazil and Mexico with one match to play before the knockout stages. With a victory over Mexico in Recife on Monday, Niko Kovac's side would advance to the round of 16.
As B/R contributor Aleksandar Holiga noted, once the result was secure, Croatia had a chance to build confidence ahead of the showdown with El Tri:
Now keep calm and play the game we are supposed to play. Bulk up on confidence ahead of Mexico.— Aleksandar Holiga (@AlexHoliga) June 18, 2014
For Cameroon, it's a sixth straight defeat in World Cup play and a fifth straight exit at the group stage following their memorable run to the quarter-finals in 1990. Volker Finke's team will finish group play Monday against hosts Brazil in Brasilia.
Cameroon played without veteran striker Samuel Eto'o, who missed out with a knee injury, but started brightly regardless. In the third minute, Vincent Aboubakar worked himself free on the right side of Croatia's box before sending a dangerous cross-shot—which was blocked—into the middle.
Eight minutes later, though, Croatia went ahead after mounting their first real attack of the match. Mandzukic served as the catalyst, harrying a defender into a poor clearance inside Cameroon's box. With the ball bouncing invitingly, Ivan Perisic crossed to the back post for Olic, who side-footed in with his first touch for a 1-0 Croatia lead.
Croatia 1-0 on Olic goal https://t.co/MXK9ywmcD0— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 18, 2014
The Europeans came within inches of a second goal in the 16th minute after another moment of lax defending by Cameroon. Mandzukic was the spark again, chesting down a corner into the path of Perisic, who only had to slot in from close range. This time, though, Itandje saved with his feet to keep Croatia out.
Olic blazed over from a tight angle in the 26th minute and Perisic headed off target 10 minutes later as Croatia continued to attack. Cameroon then went down to 10 men five minutes before half-time after Song was sent off for lashing out at Mandzukic with an elbow from behind.
Better look at Alex Song elbow to the back of Croatian player https://t.co/a6xgEBMaax— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 18, 2014
Cameroon were still very much in the match before the sending-off, but facing a 1-0 deficit at half-time, as well as a numerical disadvantage for the final 50 minutes, the Indomitable Lions had a tough task ahead.
Within moments of the restart, that task became even more difficult as Perisic doubled Croatia's lead.
Itandje was guilty of making a poor clearance, allowing Perisic to pick up position on Cameroon's right flank. Perisic promptly bore down on goal and, seeing Itandje leaning one way, shot past the goalkeeper in the other direction to make it 2-0 in the 48th minute.
2-0 Croatia https://t.co/b9sdCyPyzE— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 18, 2014
The Africans were reeling, and Mandzukic almost made it 3-0 moments later. But after racing free behind Cameroon's defence, the striker lifted his shot wide of the post in the 50th minute.
The let-off was brief, though, as an unmarked Mandzukic headed in Croatia's third from a corner in the 61st minute. Another 12 minute slater, Mandzukic made it 4-0, sweeping in at the far post after Itandje could only parry substitute Eduardo's low shot.
3-0 Croatia https://t.co/Vh2hdaqzMT— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 18, 2014
Kovac's side were already firmly in control, but from there, the Europeans could cruise to a potentially vital three-point haul. Cameroon did manage to generate a couple late chances as Moukandjo curled off target in the 85th minute and Pierre Webo hit the crossbar with a header four minutes later.
In between, Ivan Rakitic narrowly missed out on extending the lead as Croatia hit Cameroon with a quick counter two minutes from time.
The missed chances mattered little, though, as Croatia—with victory secure—turned their attentions toward Mexico.
|Dany Nounkeu (for Chedjou, 46')||N/A||5|
|Pierre Webo (for Aboubakar, 70')||N/A||5|
|Edgar Salli (for Choupo-Moting, 75')||N/A||5|
Ratings by B/R UK
|Eduardo da Silva (for Olic, 69')||N/A||6|
|Mateo Kovacic (for Sammir, 72')||N/A||6|
|Ante Rebic (for Perisic, 78')||N/A||5|
Ratings by B/R UK
Croatia coach Niko Kovac (h/t FIFA.com):
We didn’t start the match well, but we improved by keeping possession of the ball a bit better. We played in a very efficient manner tonight. Although Cameroon didn’t play as well as they can, that was partly down to our performance. We have to put this victory to the back of our minds for now, because our hardest challenge is still to come. The match with Mexico is going to be our cup final.
Cameroon coach Volker Fine (h/t FIFA.com):
It’s a tough result to take. It’s always difficult to play with ten men, but that’s still no excuse for tonight’s performance. There’s no doubt that Croatia were more clinical in front of goal, but Cameroon also had chances to score. We need to move on and look to the future, because this team is full of promising players.