It's a winner-takes-all contest in Recife as Croatia take on Mexico , for whom a draw would secure qualification. Ivan Ivkovic and Jonny Rico Aviles are our expert guides for the clash.
Ivan Ivkovic on Croatia: An excellent atmosphere in the Croatian camp was boosted by the high 4-0 victory over Cameroon. Now, Croatia needs a win over Mexico to qualify for the second round and everyone, both in the squad and in the country, believe it can be done. Luka Modrić has trained normally and his foot injury seems as a thing of the past and there are also no other injury concerns in the Croatian squad. As usual, Niko Kovač hasn’t disclosed the starting 11, but it is highly possible it will be the same as the one against Cameroon: Pletikosa – Srna, Ćorluka, Lovren, Pranjić – Modrić, Rakitić – Perišić, Sammir, Olić – Mandžukić.
Jonny Rico Aviles on Mexico: Mexico will surely maintain the same starting eleven that they have been using up until now in the World Cup. Manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera is has shown a belief that a winning starting eleven should repeat. And while they technically didn’t win the last match against Brazil, the draw was just as good as a win. Possible lineup: Guillermo Ochoa (GK), Paul Aguilar, Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Marquez (C), Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, Jose Juan Vazquez, Hector Herrera, Andrés Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos, Oribe Peralta.
Ivan Ivkovic: With the 4-0 victory over Cameroon, Croatian players showed a good display taking advantage of the red card awarded to Alex Song. There were also some problems, especially in the first half. By placing both Rakitić and Modrić in the position of defensive midfielder, Kovač was hoping the squad would be able to hold onto the ball and dictate the tempo. And yet, until Song got sent off Cameroon wasn’t beaten possession-wise, thus proving our team still has some issues with the ball handling and distribution. The key against Mexico shall be to improve these elements.
Jonny Rico Aviles: “El Tri” come in with a great form and high spirits after the 0-0 draw against host nation Brazil. The lone central (holding) midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez has had an incredible two games against Cameroon and Brazil. He was the big question mark before the tournament based on his lack of experience, but has responded well. And goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa who was finally given the opportunity to play in a World Cup after living the last two in the bench has also responded well. His world class saves against Brazil have now brought on the world’s spotlight on the 28 year old free agent ‘keeper who last played for Ligue 1’s Ajaccio.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS (OR TWEETS)
Croatia’s Niko Kovac: “We are well aware we need to win this game. From the first moment on we shall try to dictate the tempo of the game and play in our own rhythm, but we won’t rush things either.”
Mexico’s Miguel Herrera: Manager Miguel Herrera hides nothing about how he is feeling, and he is clearly in a good mood. Following the 0-0 draw to Brazil the manager used the following hashtag on a number of his tweets: #MexicoLindoyQueHuvos, making reference to a popular Mexican saying: “Mexico Lindo y Querido (My lovely and beloved Mexico).” Herrera's hashtag directly translates to: “Lovely Mexico, what (huge) balls.”
Ivan Ivkovic: Mario Mandžukić: Having scored twice against Cameroon he has shown just how prolific he can be. A striker always praying for a defensive error shouldn’t expect much of those from the Mexican defence, but there is one big advantage for the Bayern forward. His aerial ability is almost impossible to match and this may well be the trump card for Croatia, for that is maybe the greatest Mexican soft spot. Knowing that, you better believe Mandžo will be there to take advantage of it, especially at set pieces.
Jonny Rico Aviles: The key man for Mexico will be captain Rafael Marquez. Croatia are in great need for the win and will be looking to attack from the beginning. Marquez plays as the free centre-back or sweeper in Mexico’s five-man defensive system. Against Brazil Marquez pushed forward to pressure Neymar in central midfield, and he’ll probably have to do more of the same on Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric.
Ivan Ivkovic: Both teams to score at 1.85. Although this shall be a decisive encounter for both teams, they do seem like a mismatch for each other. It is hard to imagine the Croatian defence holding off the strong Mexican penetration for 90 minutes, but it’s equally hard to expect the Mexican defence not conceding a single goal against such a tall team as Croatia.
Jonny Rico Aviles: Giovani Dos Santos to score any time at 4.25.
Ivan Ivkovic: Croatia 2 Mexico 1 at 10.50.
Jonny Rico Aviles: 2-1 Mexico win at 11.00.
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