World Cup Preview: Croatia - Mexico

Unless Cameroon produces an upset for the ages, only one team will leave Recife with a place in the round of 16.
RECIFE — Croatia and Mexico meet Monday in Arena Pernambuco in a game that will likely decide who qualifies in second place of Group A - provided Brazil follows the script and beats Cameroon in Brasilia.

These teams are no strangers in the World Cup. They faced each other in 2002, a game that ended with a 1-0 victory for the Latin American side, eventual winner of the group, while the Europeans were eliminated after finishing third.

Mexico arrives to this game with the advantage of knowing a draw would be enough to seal its ticket to the round of 16. It has a full strength squad to choose from, and coach Miguel Herrera has stated he does not plan to make changes to his starting 11 from the previous two matches.

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Mexico is one of only two teams yet to concede a goal in the tournament, but it has lacked attacking power, scoring only once, with Manchester United star Javier Hernandez still only considered good enough for a place on the bench.

“You [can] win with [just one] goal. Spain were champions by winning by one [goal, in 2010], so what’s important is scoring the goal before the opponent and keeping a clean sheet at the back. That’s the most important thing," Herrera said at a news conference.

Croatia had no such problems in front of goal as its attack exploded against Cameroon in a 4-0 rout, but Mexico’s draw with Brazil renders goal difference irrelevant heading into their final Group A fixture.

Niko Kovac knows his side needs to beat Mexico to reach the last 16, assuming Cameroon does not produce a miracle against Brazil. It comes into the game confident and boasting plenty of attacking firepower in the form of Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric.

“The pressure is similar to the opening match," Rakitic said. “We need to win to proceed to the next round. We are ready and we know it will be a difficult game against Mexico. We must play perfectly, we want to win and I hope we accomplish it.”