CAMEROON 0-4 CROATIA (WORLD CUP GROUP A)
Croatia kept alive their hopes of progressing from Group A with a comfortable 4-0 win over ten man Cameroon in Manaus which eliminated the African side from the World Cup with a game still to play.
Croatia manager Niko Kovac made three changes to the side which lost 3-1 to hosts Brazil in the World Cup opener with Mario Mandzukic back from suspension, Danijel Pranjic back from a knock and Sammir brought in for tactical reasons. Nikica Jelavic, Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic were the players to drop out of the starting line up. Cameroon manager Volker Finke made a two changes to his eleven after their disappointing showing in their 1-0 defeat against Mexico. Star man and captain Samuel Eto’o was dropped along with Cedric Djeugoue and they were replaced by Vincent Aboubakar and Joel Matip with Nicolas N’Koulou taking the armband.
The game started at a bright tempo with both sides needing to win to stay in the competition and they showed attacking intent. The Cameroonians looked more enthusiastic with Aboubakar up front but they could not fashion a chance for the young striker while Croatia were sloppy in the final third. It was the Croatians who struck first after 11 minutes.
The ball was worked to the right wing for captain Darijo Srna whose cross was aimed at Mandzukic in the penalty box. N’Koulou got there before the Bayern Munich striker but his intervention landed at the feet of Ivan Perisic just inside the area. Perisic calmly played the ball across the box to an onrushing Ivica Olic who tapped home from six yards to give Croatia the lead. It was a well worked goal from Croatia but one that came completely out of the blue.
The Croatians were now really up for it and continued to press the Cameroon defence as their heads dropped for the next five minutes and they almost got a second five minutes later. Pranjic’s corner from the left was knocked on by Mandzukic using his mid-drift. Perisic was completely unmarked six yards out but his first time effort was blocked by Charles Itandje in the Cameroon goal and Eyong Enoh completed the defensive clearance. It was a big chance for Croatia indeed.
The game then settled into an entertaining pattern but neither side was able to really create much in the way of chances. Perisic headed over a Rakitic corner while both Rakitic and Sammir hit tame efforts from range at Itandje. Cameroon got into a number of promising positions but poor decisions and final ball (especially from Stephane Mbia) saw their chances fizzle out. The game was very even though right up until the game changing moment five minutes before half time.
Mbia and Benjamin Moukandjo got in each other’s way in a promising position on the right and Perisic broke away up the wing. He was entering Cameroon territory when he was pulled back by the referee for an off the ball incident for which he showed a red card to Alex Song. The Cameroon midfielder had been tracking back but had his path crossed by Mandzukic. He then stupidly struck the Croatian in the back in the referee’s line of sight and was deservedly shown a straight red. It was a moment of sheer stupidity and one that hindered his team.
To Cameroon’s credit though, they did end the first half on a positive note with more possession that broke down in the final third. Aboubakar had a couple of half chances near the end of the half but he was crowded out in one and fired way over from the edge of the area to end the first half.
The second half began at much the same tempo as the first and both sides created half chances withing the first minute of the second half. Sammir could only put it into the side netting after Cameroon fell asleep from a Srna throw while Eric Choupo-Moting fires a tame effort right at Stipe Pletikosa from range. It was the Croatians who did eventually double their lead two minutes after half time.
Itandje had time to clear up field but his kick was very poor and was intercepted by Perisic on the Croatia left. The Wolfsburg winger sped down the wing away from half time substitute Dany Nounkeu (who started a couple of yards behind Perisic) before firing past Itandje from the left side of the box. The goalkeeper didn’t cover himself in glory either, going down early and letting Perisic slot it past him at his near post. It was a massive blow for Cameroon and it could have been a lot worse a couple of minutes later.
Sammir broke forward from midfield and slipped through Mandzukic. The big striker was clean through but took his time and allowed N’Koulou to catch up. He had the time however to get into the box and all he needed to do was slip the ball past Itnadje from 15 yards but instead he decided to try and loft it over the keeper while under pressure and could only loft it past Itandje’s hands and wide of the post. It was a great chance and should have been 3-0.
Cameroon were struggling at the back but almost fashioned a goal out of nothing. Moukandjo moved the ball left to Benoit Assou-Ekotto who sent a deep cross to the back post. Half time substitute Dany Nounkeu (who had replaced the awful Aurelien Chedjou) came storming forward from right back and fired a volley just over the bar. It was a warning sign for Croatia but, in all honesty, the Croats were dominant.
They began to mount more pressure on Cameroon and were forcing a series of corners as Cameroon struggled. Olic found himself unmarked from a Srna corner but his volley was blocked while the Croatia captain fired over from a free kick on the edge of the Cameroon area. They were soon even further ahead however.
A series of corners ended with Pranjic taking one from the left. The full back swung it in and Mandzukic was unmarked to head past Itandje from 8 yards. It was a really simple goal for Croatia and one which showed the lack of defensive ability displayed by Cameroon at the tournament. The goal did seem to inspire Cameroon a little afterwards though.
Aboubakar became more involved and he got a great opportunity from a Mbia break. His effort from the edge of the area was wild and way over the bar before Mbia fired just over from long range. The Croatians, though, were comfortable and extended their lead with 18 minutes remaining.
Mateo Kovacic – just on for Sammir – got the ball on the right and lost two defenders before playing the ball to fellow substitute Eduardo just inside the area. The ex-Arsenal man set himself on his left foot before trying to place in the bottom corner. Itandje got down well to save but he tipped it right into the path of Mandzukic who gleefully tapped it in for his second of the game.
Croatia continued to carve open Cameroon but they made poor decisions in the final third and great opportunities fizzled out quickly while Cameroon tried but struggled with ten men. They did carve open an opportunity when subsitute Edgar Salli dribbled past two Croatians before teeing up Moukandjo just inside the area but the winger could only fire wide of the far post. Croatian subsitute Ante Rebic then broke clear on the left before seeing his curling effort saved by Itandje.
There were even better chances in the final minutes as Eduardo cleared the ball down the right and Rebic broke. The Fiorentina striker cut back and played in Rakitic who dinked the ball over the onrushing Itandje but he couldn’t reach the ball and went wide of the post. Then, Assou-Ekotto sent in an excellent cross from the left and sub Pierre Webo headed his effort into the ground and saw it bounce off the bar before being unable to get to the follow up. The game ended with Assou-Ekotto attempting a headbutt on team mate Moukandjo as Cameroon were eliminated in shambles. The only positive for Cameroon is that the referee didn’t send the full back off.
It was a comfortable victory for Croatia who now have set up a do or die final game against Mexico to try and progress from Group A. They have looked good so far (even in defeat) and the game against Mexico looks to be a potentially great game. However, for Cameroon, it is another appalling showing in a major tournament and the egos in that dressing room have again been their own downfall as has some shocking defending and poor performances from big names.
Cameroon: Itandje, Mbia, N’Koulou (c), Chedjou (Nounkeu 45), Assou-Ekotto, Matip, Song, Enoh, Moukandjo, Aboubakar (Webo 70), Choupo-Moting (Salli 75)
Subs: Feudjou, Djeugoue, N’Guemo, Eto’o, Makoun, Bedimo, Olinga, Nyom, Ndjock
Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Corluka, Lovren, Pranjic, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic (Rebic 78), Sammir (Kovacic 72), Olic (Eduardo 69) , Mandzukic
Subs: Vrsaljko, Vukojevic, Jelavic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Brozovic, Badelj, Vida, Subasic
Goal: Olic, Perisic, Mandzukic
MAN OF THE MATCH: IVAN PERISIC (CROATIA)