MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — One week into the tournament, Croatia is really about to get its World Cup going.
The Croats head into Wednesday’s Group A match against Cameroon knowing that their opening loss to Brazil means nothing if they can win both of their remaining Group A matches. The same, however, goes for the Cameroonians.
“We know what this mean to us, both to us and Cameroon,” Croatia coach Niko Kovac said Tuesday. “Everybody can do math. Let’s not dwell on that.”
The Croats lost to Brazil 3-1 in the opening World Cup match on Thursday, but the host country’s second goal came after a controversial penalty, a decision Kovac called “shameful.”
The team has been trying to get past that distraction, and the added distraction of some published photos of nude players, heading into the match against Cameroon at the Arena da Amazonia.
“Realistically speaking, games Nos. 2 and 3 mean more to us because these are our competitors for second place,” Kovac said. “I’m convinced that we are going to win tomorrow’s game.”
If either team wins its two remaining matches, it is guaranteed a spot in the second round. A loss on Wednesday, however, leads to instant elimination because both Brazil and Mexico already have four points in the group after Tuesday’s 0-0 draw.
In their final group matches on Monday, Croatia will face Mexico and Cameroon will take on Brazil.
“If we were to play in the same way that we played against Brazil, I don’t see why we wouldn’t have any chances of progressing,” Kovac said.
Croatia will have the added advantage of having Mario Mandzukic back in the lineup. The Bayern Munich forward sat out the opener because of a suspension from qualifying.
And Luka Modric is also ready to play, with Kovac saying the Real Madrid midfielder is “100 percent fit” after an injury concern following the loss to Brazil.
Wednesday’s match will be the second played in Manaus, a city on the Amazon River deep in the Brazilian rainforest. After the first match, in which Italy beat England 2-1, both coaches complained about the heat and humidity.
Mandzukic said he and his teammates needed some time to get used to the conditions during Tuesday’s practice.
“But soon we felt better,” Mandzukic said. “We don’t have to think about it. Let’s focus on our game and to get a good result.”
Kovac also downplayed the significance of the weather, with temperatures during the day on Wednesday expected to be about 29 degrees C (85 degrees F) with humidity at about 80 percent.
“The conditions are what they are,” Kovac said. “We will have to accept them. We will accept them because we are not fishing for any excuses.”
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