International Friendly: Croatia v Mali

Croatia face a daunting start to their FIFA World Cup campaign and will seek to find form in a friendly against Mali on Saturday.

Niko Kovac's side will have the eyes of the world on them when they take on hosts Brazil in Sao Paulo on June 12 to kick-off the 2014 tournament.

Croatia will need to demonstrate more quality than they have shown in the past year, which has yielded just three victories from 10 matches.

That dip in results led to Igor Stimac losing his job as coach and almost cost Croatia a World Cup berth.

Kovac replaced him for the play-offs after Croatia had taken just one point from the final four group-stage qualification games to leave them second.

Iceland were toppled over two legs but Mario Mandzukic, who opened the scoring in the 2-0 second-leg triumph, was dismissed in Zagreb and will miss Croatia's Group A curtain-raiser. 

After facing Brazil, Kovac's men take on Cameroon and Mexico, with only the visit of Mali and a showdown with Australia to come before the tournament begins.

The 1998 semi-finalists are undeniably a force to be reckoned with on their day and there were signs of promise in March's 2-2 draw away to Switzerland, when Wolfsburg forward Ivica Olic scored twice.

One man who will be absent for the hosts is Niko Kranjcar, who suffered a hamstring injury in QPR's Championship play-off final triumph over Derby County.

The 29-year-old, who played 32 games on loan under Harry Redknapp last season, has been ruled out of the World Cup.

Mali head into the fixture on the back of a disappointing 2-1 reverse to Guinea and still nursing the wounds of an underwhelming World Cup qualifying campaign.

Hopes had been high for Henryk Kasperczak's side after a poor opening result - a 1-0 loss to Benin - was put firmly behind them with successive victories over group favourites Algeria and Rwanda.

But a three-match winless run left them well short of eventual winners Algeria, who went on to prevail in a play-off against Burkina Faso.

A place on the world stage continues to elude them but the Africans do boast potential, with several well-known players among their ranks.

And though 34-year-old captain Seydou Keita of Valencia may have missed his last opportunity to play at a World Cup, some of their younger stars will have hope of achieving that feat, including the likes of goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa (Guingamp) and striker Cheick Diabate (Bordeaux).


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