MANAUS, June 18: Cameroon and Croatia clash in Manaus on Wednesday looking to put their troubles behind them and keep alive their hopes of making the World Cup knock-out rounds.
Having both lost their opening match, a victory would be fundamental in staying alive in a tough Group A including hosts Brazil and Mexico.
But a win would also allow each side to forget off-field troubles that have threatened to disrupt their preparation.
In the case of the Africans it is the near certain absence of talismanic striker Samuel Eto’o due to a knee injury.
“I am hoping the gods grant me a miracle and that I am able to defend my dear, beautiful country,” Eto’o told Cameroon Radio-Television (CRTV).
“If this is not the case, I will always play my role as captain and especially as the big brother to push my young teammates to victory.”
Eto’o’s knee problem stems from the end of his club season with Chelsea.
He says he hasn’t been 100 percent for months and right from the start of the opening 1-0 loss to Mexico last Friday, he was in pain.
“During the first match of the World Cup against Mexico, I tried but after consulting the medical staff we realised that I needed a rest. Even in the ninth minute, I felt pain,” said the 33-year-old.
Croatia’s problems are somewhat different as they lick their wounds and try to digest the bitter pill of their 3-1 loss to Brazil last Thursday.
Two key incidents changed the game as Brazil were awarded a highly contentious penalty to go 2-1 ahead before the Europeans controversially had a goal disallowed that would have levelled the scores.
But worse was to follow at the weekend as players were upset by some overly revealing coverage of their Brazilian campaign.
A Croatian website published photos of naked players frolicking in a swimming pool at their team base in Praia do Forte.
Veteran striker Ivica Olic, 34, accused the country’s media of sabotaging their preparations.
“You can write freely that it’s really shameful!,” slammed Olic in the Sportske Novosti daily.
“We came here to represent Croatia, give our best, we are preparing ourselves for a difficult match against Cameroon and then such things happen.
“Is it normal? Do people really need to watch us without our underpants, do our families have to blush? Did media representatives come here for football or something else.”
Olic wasn’t one of those exposed on the pictures — defenders Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren were wearing nothing but their birthday suits while playmaker Luka Modric had his trunks on in the photos.
The publication had caused outrage amongst the players who decided to boycott the media until Olic opted to speak to Sportske Novosti.
The photos, originally published online, were reprinted by many Monday newspapers and were especially well received by women on social networks.
But they haven’t helped the mood of players who were already aggrieved by what their coach Nico Kovac described as the “ridiculous” penalty award in their opening match.
Kovac said the tournament would turn into a “circus” if referees continue to make such decisions.
So the referee on Wednesday will likely come under stern scrutiny, particularly since the gaffes have continued from the men in the middle.
Cameroon actually benefitted from two seemingly valid Mexico goals being chalked off for what appeared non-existant offsides.
Whatever the outcome on Wednesday, both sides will be hoping that headlines are made for the right reasons.
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