Entering the last round of fixtures in Group A, it seems to be a straight knock out between Croatia and Mexico when they meet on Monday in Recife. Although strange things can happen, the chances are that Brazil will at least gain the point needed against Cameroon to make it through to the last 16. With Mexico on four points from their two games, they only need a draw against Croatia to join the hosts, whereas their opponents need the win to book their place in the next round. With all to play for between these two exciting teams, it is set up to be an enthralling encounter.
After narrowly and unluckily losing their first game to Brazil, Croatia demonstrated their superiority against a subdued Cameroon side by recording an emphatic 4-0 win last time out. It could’ve and should’ve been more with the chances that they created late on, with the African side all at sea having been reduced to 10 men. Alex Song was shown a straight red for an elbow in the back of striker Mario Mandzukic and it was all one way traffic from then on. Although Croatia’s attacking play was fantastic, they weren’t troubled much from a defensive point of view so they will have to be more wary against Mexico, who posses similar players to Modric and Rakitic.
Croatia manager Niko Kovac won’t make too many changes from their match against Cameroon with Mandzukic leading the line again after a fantastic game on his return from suspension.
Kovacic may come into the squad in favour of Sammir so that Modric and Rakitic can have more of an impact in the final third of the pitch.
Key Player: Ivan Perišić
The Wolfsburg midfielder pulled out a man of the match performance against Cameroon and seemed untouchable throughout the match. Always finding space on the left hand side, his pace and movement caused havoc for the Cameroonian defenders who found it hard to live with the 25-year-old. His assist for Croatia’s first goal, scored by Olic, was one of four chances created by Perisic throughout the game. He capped off his performance with a superb goal to make it 20 after outpacing his marker on the left to score from a tight angle. With the concentration likely to be on Croatia’s playmaker, Perisic could have an impact if he can put the Mexico defenders under pressure.
Mexico did fantastically well to hold hosts Brazil in their last match, to add to their 1-0 win against Cameroon in their first match. Miguel Herrera’s men held their own and deserved a point after keeping the Brazil strikers at bay, with an amazing performance from goalkeeper Ochoa to match. They did have chances to sneak a win but would’ve been delighted with the draw going into the last match of the group stages. The result means that Mexico only need a draw from this game and going by their two previous performances, they will be confident of reaching the last 16.
Miguel Herrera will be more than happy with his team’s performances and will refrain from making heavy changes if any for this crunch match. The only change that we could see is up front with speculation that Hernandez may replace Peralta in leading the line for Mexico.
Hernandez has come off the bench for both of the first two games and will be desperate to start the match and make a telling contribution.
Key Player: Guillermo Ochoa
Few words could really explain Ochoa’s performance against Brazil. It really was up there as one of the World Cup’s best goalkeeping performances in history. Brazil carved open fair few chances but had no answer to the quality of Ochoa’s saves. More the quality of saves than the amount, Mexico had the shot stopper to thank on five occasions, a couple of which from Neymar who was in shock as well as his team-mates and many around the stadium. With Croatia’s firepower up front, Ochoa will again need to be at his best to help his team through to the next round.
Possible Line Up
The two teams have met three times before, with Croatia edging the head to head record with two wins as opposed to Mexico’s one. However, Mexico’s win counted for much more as their 1-0 win in the 2002 World Cup Group Stage was crucial in reaching the next round at the expense of Croatia.
With Mexico needing only a draw, I think it actually might work against them and Croatia will want the win needed to qualify. The odd goal may win this one and I’m swayed towards Croatia to take it and reach the last 16.