Croatia v Cameroon: Mario Mandzukic returns for must-win game

Both sides know defeat will send them out of the tournament

A tale of two strikers may be the story in Manaus on Wednesday when a Croatia side reinforced by Mario Mandzukic face a Cameroon side who may yet call on Chelsea’s Samuel Eto’o in a must-win Group A match.

Neither side has had much to smile about in Brazil so far: Croatia’s opening loss to Brazil was followed by the publication of photos of several of their players naked in a swimming pool, leading to a media blackout by the squad.

As for Cameroon, doubts over Eto’o’s fitness have dominated their preparations, though he may yet feature as a substitute.

Eto’o missed two days’ training earlier this week and had tweeted that he would miss the game only to cloud the issue on the eve of the match at the Arena Amazonias.

Though he had ice strapped to his right knee before the squad’s final training session, he refused to rule himself out, saying: “I cannot give you a satisfactory answer, even though I might already know whether or not I'm going to be able to play."

 

His coach Volker Finke added: “I think the most important thing for us tomorrow is that Samuel is with us, perhaps as a substitute."

Defeat for either team would spell elimination given that Brazil and Mexico now have four points each but Croatia, at least, have their main man back in attack as Mandzukic returns from the one-match suspension imposed after his sending-off in the qualifying play-off against Iceland.

Mandzukic scored in that play-off – and hit 26 goals for Bayern Munich this term – and according to team-mate Daniel Pranjic, Croatia will be a different team for his presence.

“He definitely makes us stronger and you can't replace him like-for-like,” said Pranjic. “He’s prepared to go out and die for the cause. Nikica Jelavic did really well against Brazil but Mario is Mario. We need him. We’re a totally different team without him.”

Given the high stakes, Croatia are also expected to include Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who has been nursing an injury to his right ankle. Pranjic added: “It’s all-or-nothing for both teams. The losers will pack their bags and go home.”

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