By TIM FONTENAULT
Cameroon still had a chance to save its World Cup campaign after Croatia took an early 1-0 lead. Instead, their chance dwindled away just before halftime with the sending off of Alex Song, and Croatia piled on the goals, eliminating Cameroon from the World Cup with a 4-0 win Wednesday night.
Croatia, which lost its opening match against Brazil, remains alive but sits one point behind both Brazil and Mexico in Group A.
The Indomitable Lions came out looking primed to score an early goal, creating chance after chance in the first 10 minutes. With one counterattack by Croatia, the entire match changed.
Croatia captain Darijo Srna whipped a cross into the middle, where Mario Mandžukić was unable to direct it towards goal. Fortunately, however, the ball landed at the foot of Ivan Perišić, who quickly found Ivica Olić charging into the box and put a perfect pass to the 34-year-old’s foot. With Charles Itandje out of position, it was an easy tap in for Olic.
Cameroon would continue to press forward, trying everything they could to put a threatening strike towards goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa. As chances disappeared, frustration grew. Ultimately, frustration boiled over for Alex Song.
Song got angry when Mandžukić ran in front of him as the two players trails behind Perišić, who had just won the ball in Croatia’s defensive third. Song punched Mandžukić in the back while in full view of referee Pedro Proença, who immediately issued a red card. It marked the eighth time a Cameroon player has been sent off at the World Cup since 1990; two of those red cards were issued to Rigobert Song, Alex’s cousin, in 1994 and 1998.
It did not take long for Perišić to double the Croatian’s lead after halftime. The 25-year-old winger took matters into his own hands, sprinting forward into the box with little opposition. He caught Itandje off balance and beat him with a left-footed shot to the near post.
Thirteen minutes later, Mandžukić, the subject of many transfer rumors entering the summer window, added his name to the score sheet, turning in a thunderous header off of a corner kick played in by Danijel Pranjic. After being suspended for the opening match, Mandžukić climbed over everyone in the box and hit the ball with enough pace to get through a lot of traffic and past Itandje.
Mandžukić scored again 12 minutes later. Standing all alone at the corner of the six, Mandžukić corralled a rebound off a save by Itandje and had a wide open net in which to shoot the ball.
Croatia will likely need to win against Mexico in their final match of the Group Stage if they are to progress to the knockout stage, as Cameroon, defeated and demoralized, will end their World Cup campaign against Brazil.