World Cup Group A | Manaus | Wed 18 Jun | 11pm
Group A’s wooden spoon semi-final.
The defeated parties of World Cup 2014’s opening two matches square up in Manaus, with the loser, should there be one, likely to be doomed (barring a sequence of fortuitous permutations in the third round of fixtures).
On the basis of their debuts, Croatia look by far the stronger candidates to progress. They impressed in the curtain-raiser against the hosts, taking a deserved early lead, retaining possession well, looking incisive and skilful, and were only overcome thanks to a deeply dubious penalty and a couple of moments of magic from Neymar and Oscar.
They may have been furious about the injustice of it all, post-game, but Luka Modric’s and Ivan Rakitic’s midfield scheming, Ivica Olic’s occasionally OTT industrious verve and Dejan Lovren’s cool defensive marshalling were all deeply impressive. 3-1 flattered the Selecao.
Cameroon, meanwhile, were themselves flattered by a 1-0 loss to a tidy-looking Mexico side: El Tri had two good goals denied by incorrect offside decisions, and a couple of sparky moments from Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo aside, the Indomitable Lions looked devoid of ideas going forward. Worse, it looks unlikely that star man Samuel Eto’o – who was very isolated against Mexico anyway – will be fit for this one.
Volker Finke’s men, knowing that they face Brazil in the final match, simply have to attack – but goals are a real problem for this squad, and should the game get stretched, Croatia will have the manpower to finish them off.
What the local media say
“Two years we fight for this and then someone robs us.” - Jutarnji.
“The Cameroonian team was not only disorganised on Friday, it is the weakest of the five African representatives at the finals. No compartment of the team functioned as expected.” - Cameroon Tribune.
Key battle: Choupo-Moting vs Lovren
With the ageing legend that is Eto’o looking unlikely to be fully functional for this clash, young German-born hitman Eric Choupo-Moting must somehow fill the void. The 6ft 2in striker has been reasonably prolific for both his country and his club, Mainz 05, over the last few years, but looks ill-equipped to carry the Indomitable Lions' burden single-handed, and his team-mates – sorely lacking a creative midfielder – don’t provide enough chances for him. Lovren meanwhile looked excellent against Brazil, and will believe that Croatia’s defence can comfortably contain an average attack. With chances slim, Choupo-Moting must seize on any stray balls that come his way.
Facts and figures
- Cameroon have won only 1 of their 13 World Cup games against European sides (2-1 vs Romania in 1990), drawing 5 and losing 7.
- Cameroon have lost their last 5 World Cup matches; the longest losing streak of any African nation at the tournament.
- Croatia have not won any of their last 5 World Cup matches (L3 D2), with their last WC finals victory coming in 2002 vs Italy (2-1).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A straightforward 2-0 win for the Croats – and hopefully no dubious penalties either way.