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Kovac commands Croatia to chill out
Niko Kovac will give his Croatia players all the downtime they need to prepare for a World Cup showdown with Mexico after overseeing a four-goal dismantling of Cameroon.
Croatia responded in the best possible way to their opening-night defeat to tournament hosts Brazil by putting Cameroon to the sword in Manaus - Mario Mandzukic scoring twice in a comprehensive 4-0 win for Kovac's side.
While the Africans are eliminated from the finals before meeting Brazil in the last round of Group A games, Croatia are tasked with plotting Mexico's downfall.
The Vatreni must beat Miguel Herrera's side in Recife on Monday to reach the last 16, and Kovac is all too aware of the size of the task after watching Mexico hold Brazil to a goalless draw earlier this week.
"The match against Mexico will be like a final," he told Croatian television station HTV. "We have to get some rest, because a serious opponent awaits.
"Mexico are strong, but so are we.
"The Mexico players are very patriotic, just like us, and they have a great team spirit.
"They play some aggressive football with a lot of pressing. They are strong going forward, but also have some weaknesses in defence, like Brazil showed us."
Ivica Olic opened the scoring against sorry Cameroon shortly before half-time at the Arena Amazonia, with Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic putting the result well beyond doubt following the interval.
Kovac was naturally satisfied with the overall performance and final score but admitted to having harboured early concerns over his team's slow start in the rainforest.
The 42-year-old added: "We weren't on top of our game in the opening five to 10 minutes and Cameroon created some chances.
"But then we found our rhythm. Olic scored and that opened up the game for us. We could have scored even more goals.
"I can only congratulate the players, though. They won in very difficult conditions. It was hard to sit or stand, let alone run around on the pitch."
Bayern Munich striker Mandzukic was suspended and unable to lead the line during Croatia's 3-1 defeat to Brazil last week and revealed he had used the enforced time on the sidelines wisely.
"I had trained hard for this one so that I could put in a strong performance," he told FIFA.com.
"I should stress that this was a team victory, though; goals are the reward you get for great teamwork.
"I don't think we should get too obsessive about goals - the overall objective is winning the game, after all.
"There's still some room for improvement for this team."
Volker Finke, the Cameroon coach, is likely to field an experimental line-up in the Indomitable Lions' upcoming dead-rubber clash with Brazil in Brasilia.
Cameroon were always up against it but life became much harder when Barcelona midfielder Alex Song was sent off for lashing out at Mandzukic.
Yet well-travelled German tactician Finke played down the impact of the dismissal, saying: " It's a tough result to take.
"It's always difficult to play with 10 men, but that's still no excuse for tonight's performance.
"There's no doubt that Croatia were more clinical in front of goal, but Cameroon also had chances to score.
"We need to move on and look to the future, because this team is full of promising players."
Song later apologised for his part in the off-the-ball scuffle with Mandzukic which resulted in the Barca man heading back to the changing rooms ahead of schedule.
In a statement the 26-year-old said: " I'm very sad at the moment as I feel I have let my country and myself down.
"It was a stupid moment and I'm truly sorry. If I could do anything to take it back I would. Please forgive me."