Confident Croatia will score
RECIFE, Brazil (AP) – Niko Kovac points to the resumes of his top attacking players as he outlines why he expects his Croatia team to be the first in this World Cup to score against Mexico.
If he’s wrong, his team is going home. A scoreless draw, which would clinch a spot in the second round for Mexico, won’t do for Croatia today in the last Group A game. Only a victory over stingy “El Tri”” will see Croatia through, yet Kovac sounds a lot like a coach who believes he has the upper hand.
Kovac said if anyone should be worried, it’s the Mexican defenders and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
“We know that Mexico is excellent. … They have a very good goalkeeper, but we have a team that has scored five times,” he said.
In Kovac’s opinion, Spain’s La Liga is the world’s best professional league – and that is where Croatian midfielders Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla last season, Barcelona next) earn their livings.
The three players who combined for four goals in Croatia’s most recent outing – Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic – all play professionally in the German Bundesliga, Kovac rates as the second-best league in the world.
Kovac cites the quality and experience of such players, combined with the fact his team is the leading scorer in Group A with five goals, as reasons he likes his team’s chances against Mexico.
“We are realistic, but we are also realistically optimistic,” Kovac continued. “We have players from top-notch clubs. If I cannot be optimistic now, when can I be?”
And while the onus will be on the Croatians to attack, that’s precisely how Modric would have it.
“It is a good thing we have to play to win,” Modric said. “It’s easier in a way. The fact they’ve not conceded (a goal) speaks volumes about their quality, but I’m sure we’ll find a way to score.
“There’s a first time for everything. They had a great deal of luck and an excellent performance from their goalkeeper against Brazil.”
Indeed, Ochoa, who made a slew of acrobatic saves in the 0-0 draw with Brazil, was quick to call that performance the game of his life. The Brazilian players referred to some of Ochoa’s diving stops as “miracles”.
Croatia’s confidence, meanwhile, is surging following a 4-0 triumph over Cameroon. Mandzukic, the star Bayern Munich striker who was back from a one-game suspension, scored twice, while Olic and Perisic, who both played for Wolfsburg last season, added a goal each.
Croatia lost their opener, 3-1 to Brazil, but Kovac was generally pleased with that performance.