A full strength Argentina – the second best team in the World according to Croatian Football Federation President Davor Šuker – will play Croatia at West Hamʼs Boleyn Ground tonight, but the Croatians will be shorn of their stars. Mario Mandžukić, Ivica Olić, Luka Modrić, Danijel Pranjić and Dejan Lovren are among those who will not face La Abiceleste.
Croatiaʼs coach Niko Kovačʼs priority – understandably – was this weekendʼs Euro2016 qualifier against Italy. “My coach decide in that way and we will talk about [it] on Monday, after the game in Italy”, Šuker said explaining the omissions from the squad for tonightʼs friendly amid rumours that Kovač was far from happy with the choice of opponent. So why Argentina?
“What is the best teams in the world”? Šuker asks. “Playing the best teams and I think is Argentina. They are the second team in the World Cup and itʼs great to play a friendly game in London with big awareness and big players and just the young players can play against Messi and this is next step for these players”.
Kovač is said to have wanted to play the USA rather than Argentina tonight. The Americans play Colombia at Craven Cottage on Friday. Meanwhile, Croatiaʼs stars didnʼt come to London. The ʻfirst team squadʼ remained in the former Yugoslav nation. They are being trained by Kovačʼs assistants.
It could prove to be inspired. Youngsters with no fear and nothing to lose could come of age, or they could be torn apart by facing a precociously talented Argentina team.
Former Barçelona coach Gerardo Tata Martino replaced Alejandro Sabella after the World Cup. Martino has brought a full strength squad, which includes former West Ham hero Carlos Tévez – recalled after a three year absence.
Itʼs a gamble for Croatia. Some answers will come tonight when Šuker and Kovač find out if this untested squad come through the examination. But the real test is against Italy. Only then will it be seen if the gamble has paid off. “Thatʼs the big game and I hope we can surprise Italy of course and we will play a nice game”, Šuker said.
Their preparation ruined by an unseemly dispute over bonuses Cameroun – once the darlings of world football – are going home early and they wonʼt be missed. Far from rewarding the players for such a dreadful display, the Cameroonian Federation should with-hold the bonuses and give them to Camerounian fans who paid their hard-earned money to support their team and witness an utterly dismal performance.
They needed awful officiating to escape the sound beating by México that their performance deserved in their first match. With their star striker Samuel Etoʼo Fils ruled out with a persistent knee injury they received a well deserved thrashing from Croatia and will be leaving the World Cup after their next match against hosts Brasil.
They wonʼt be missed and will leave, having done less than nothing to convince anyone that Africa deserves any extra places in the World Cup Finals when they not only spurn such chances, but throw them away. It is their fifth first round failure in a row!
Croatia easily beat Cameroun 4-0. It could and should have been more. Already trailing by a goal to nil to Ivica Olićʼs 11th minute strike, Cameroun were left with a mountain to climb by former Arsenal midfielder Alex Songʼs petulant 40th minute elbow in the back of Bayern Münchenʼs Mario Mandžukić under referee Portuguese referee Pedro Proençaʼs nose.
There was only ever going to be one outcome – a thoroughly well-deserved red card that quite rightly ends Songʼs World Cup early and he should not have been alone. Tottenham Hotspurʼs Benoit Assou-Ekottoʼs World Cup should have ended in utter disgrace. Head-butting an opponent is unacceptable, but head-butting a team-mate beggars belief and the victim of the butt Benjamin Moukandjo understandably raised his hands – expect the Camerounian Federation or FIFA or both to take action over this.
At least one team came to play. Croatia, unlucky to lose to Brasil, wanted to stay – were determined to stay and earned the right to keep their fate in their hands. Aurélien Chedjou failed to clear Dario Srnaʼs cross which fell to Ivan Perišić. The VfL Wolfsburg midfielderʼs cross fell to Olić who beat his man to shoot past Charles Itandje.
Six minutes later Perišić should have made it two, but he failed to score fro close range. The Europa Cup winner Ivan Rakitić should have tested Itandje far more than his tame effort did a minute later. Cameroun hardly mounted an attack in a poor first half. The second was even worse.
Itandje made such a hash of his clearance three minutes in that it should almost count as an assist to Perišićʼs goal. He received Itandjeʼs clearance and bore down on goal before punishing it by doubling Croatiaʼs lead. Two minutes later Mandžukić should have made it three, but shot wide. Substitute Dany Nounkeu tried to instil some pride into Camerounʼs performance volleying Assou-Ekottoʼs cross just over Stipe Pletikosaʼs cross-bar.
Panathinaikos striker Danijel Pranjić has never scored for his country. He should have done after Rakitićʼs corner gave him the opportunity. He won another corner and Mandžukić showed him how itʼs done just past the hour mark. With 20 minutes remaining the former Arsenal striker Brasilian-born Eduardo came on for Olić. He made a quick impact. His curling shot was parried by Itandje, but fell to Mandžukić who snaffled his second.
Substitute Ante Rebić drew a fine save from Itandje and the rebound was cleared by Assou-Ekotto. A minute later Rebić finds Rakitić, whose lob clears Itandje, but went wide before the soon to be Barçelona man could retrieve it for a tap in.
Pierre Webó came close in injury time, hitting the cross-bar before acting as peace-maker for his team-mates as Camerounʼs World Cup ended in shame and disgrace. Shamefully it continued after the final whistle as Etoʼo tried and seemed to fail to calm Assou-Ekotto down.
On this evidence Cameroun wonʼt be missed. It appears that the Indomitable Lions of Italia 90 that football fell in love with are fast receding from memory. The current generation would do well to rediscover the spirit of that team.