After Brazil and Mexico played out a 0-0 draw leaving both with four points, Croatia and Cameroon has become an even more important fixture, especially for Croatia who have already played Brazil and thus gotten their toughest group match out of the way. Should Croatia beat Cameroon by anything less than three goals, it would set things up for a very interesting Croatia-Mexico match, with only a win good enough for the Europeans.
For Cameroon, the situation looks bleak, as they need to get something from their game against the hosts to have a chance of progressing from the group. For a side that could only manage one shot on target against Mexico and less than 40% possession, it might be time to start playing for pride. Further adding to Cameroon’s misery is that Samuel Eto’o, who looked lively and involved both with his offensive movement and link up play against Mexico, will miss the Croatia match with a knee injury. Although the heat and humidity of Manaus should favor the African side, Croatia’s sheer quality, especially in midfield and attack should be too much for them.
Croatia should rue their missed opportunity to gain something out of the game against Brazil, conceding to a soft shot from distance, a soft penalty that should have been saved, and finally once more when chasing the game in the 91st minute. But they can take heart from the fact that for long periods of time they matched Brazil in midfield and offensively, with 11 shots to Brazil’s 14 and three on target as opposed to the South American’s six. Essentially then it should be more of the same, but at a slightly higher level due to the return of striker Mario Mandzukic from suspension.
The formation will probably remain 4-2-3-1, with two excellent central midfielders in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic controlling the game from midfield. The advanced midfielders who should play behind Mandzukic are interesting because the wide players, Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic, are essentially converted forwards and Mateo Kovacic is an odd player in the number 10 position. Both Modric and Rakitic essentially play all the ambitious passes, both behind the defence and to the flanks, and recycle possession and so Kovacic basically has no purpose, he only passed the ball 17 times, mostly in the centre of the pitch and mostly short and back to the more elegant midfielders behind him. Cameroon showed a number of defensive weaknesses against Mexico, but what was most apparent was space behind the left-back Assou-Ekotto and an inability to deal with high balls into the box. This could tempt Croatia coach Nilo Kovac into playing both Nikita Jelavic and Mandzukic and try and overload the two Cameroon centre backs.
Rakitic and Modric were both superb against Brazil, the latter especially, completing 51 passes and creating four chances. Perisic was his most favoured forward target, Modric passing to the winger eight times trying to get behind Brazil’s advanced full backs to play balls into the box at pace and a similar plan is likely to be employed against Cameroon. The difference however, is that Croatia will have a lot more of the ball and a lot more time to play against a less gifted central midfield of Stephane Mbia and Alex Song. So the crossing could be varied with balls into the channels for Mandzukic to run into and hold up while Olic and Perisic use their forward instincts to get into the box.