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 scored 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.”