MANAUS, Brazil, - Luka Modric may be Croatia's midfield dynamo but striker Mario Mandzukic is their cutting edge and his absence through suspension was sorely felt in their opening 3-1 Group A defeat by hosts Brazil.
Having been sent off in the 2-0 qualifying playoff win over Iceland in November, the 28-year-old hitman could only watch helplessly from the bench as the Croatians surrendered an early lead not helped by a controversial penalty given against them. Although Mandzukic's stand-in Nikica Jelavic worked hard, coach Niko Kovac left no doubt that Mandzukic would lead the line against Cameroon in Manaus on Wednesday.
The soft-spoken, shy-looking striker cannot wait to make his World Cup debut after helping Bayern Munich win the treble in the 2012-2013 season, when he scored the opening goal in the 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final. But Mandzukic was also oozing with confidence that his maiden World Cup appearance would be a memorable one.
"It's every child's dream to play in the World Cup and my debut can't come soon enough because I'm so eager to finally make an impact and help the team keep alive our hopes of reaching the knockout stage," he told reporters on Tuesday. "This is one of the biggest games of our careers, but I really don't feel the pressure because we always knew it would come down to beating Cameroon and then Mexico if we are to avoid an early exit," he added.
Cameroon lost their first game 1-0 to the Mexicans, who drew 0-0 with Brazil on Tuesday. Always an aerial threat and a decent penalty box poacher while also capable of playing wide, Mandzukic is likely to be the lone striker in Kovac's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.