Croatia eliminates Cameroon from contending past the group stage with a strong 4-0 victory.
Byline: Kevin Buckles Jr, Sports Editor
In a ‘win or go home’ desperation game Wednesday evening, Croatia crushed Cameroon and their hopes of advancing past the group stage, defeating them 4-0 at the Arena Amazônia.
Croatia, looking to bounce back from their opening match against Brazil, came out fairly aggressive against Cameroon and set the tone of the game early.
In the 11 minute, after Croatia forward Mario Mandžukić failed to secure a pass in the right corner of the penalty box, midfielder Ivan Perišić gathered the loose ball and dished it across the box to veteran Ivica Olić who had slipped past defenders near the goal.
The 34 year-old Croatia forward received the perfectly timed pass and finished the job, giving his team the early 1-0 lead with an effortless kick straight into the back of the net.
After Olić’s goal, Croatia struggled for the remaining of the first half maintaining their aggressiveness, as Cameroon did a decent job limiting Croatia’s goal scoring opportunities.
However, a lack of the same opportunities for Cameroon boiled over in frustration for the West Africans in the 40 minute.
After some slight contact and jockeying for positioning while running up the field, Cameroon midfielder Alexandre Song lost his composure and struck Mario Mandžukić in the back with his forearm.
The referee on hand immediately issued Song a red card, eliminating him from the match. As well the next, which left his team to fend with just ten players, and effectively ended his 2014 World Cup play with just one game remaining in the group stage.
“The game was balanced until the red card,” Cameroon head coach Volker Finke told FIFA.com after the match. “The Croatians were more clinical in front of goal, but Cameroon also had chances to score. The behavior of some of the players is really not satisfactory. Even when we were 11-a-side, it was not acceptable.”
Song’s quick lapse in judgment proved to be extremely costly and devastating to his team in the second half, as Croatia ignited a flame and blazed past a ten-man Cameroon lineup in the final 45 minutes.
Just three minutes into the second half, Ivan Perišić led a Croatia counterattack up the left side of the field and sent a low shot on the left side of the goal, past the Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje to double their lead, 2-0.
Six-foot, two-inch Mario Mandžukić joined the scoring action in the 61 minute when he out-jumped defenders to score a header off of a corner kick to put Croatia up 3-0.
Twelve minutes later it was Mandžukić again, scoring what was perhaps the easiest goal of the group stage matches thus far; kicking the ball into the back of the net off of a rebound shot, while in a standing still position just feet away from the goal.
Mandžukić’s two goals pushed Croatia’s lead to 4-0, all but clinching the win, and ending any opportunity Cameroon had at advancing to the round of 16.
The FC Bayern Müenchen forward spoke to FIFA.com after the game iterating that though he had a fine game putting the ball into the back of the net, Croatia’s win was about the team.
“I had trained hard for this one so that I could put in a strong performance. I should stress that this was a team victory, though; goals are the reward you get for great teamwork,” Mandžukić said after the game. “The overall objective is winning the game, after all. There’s still some room for improvement for this team.”
Croatia will now face Mexico, on Monday evening at the Arena Pernambucoin a battle where the winner will go on to advance to the round of 16, and the loser will be eliminated, a fact that Croatia head coach Niko Kovać is already well aware of.
“We have to put this victory to the back of our minds for now, because our hardest challenge is still to come,” Kovać told FIFA.com after the match. “The match with Mexico is going to be our cup final.”
Cameroon, officially ousted from advancing from the group stage, will be playing solely for the pride of their country Monday afternoon against host nation Brazil at Estádio Nacional.
The highlights to this video can be seen on this link http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=intl:1892629, video provided by ESPN FC.