Three quick thoughts after Croatia routed 10-man Cameroon 4-0 at Arena Amazonia in Manaus.
1. Croatia is legit
We saw how much trouble Croatia gave Brazil last week in the World Cup curtain-raiser. And even though the Croats started slowly against Cameroon and Alex Song's unnecessary red card just before halftime changed the complexion of the game, they showed their class against a full-strength foe between the 20th and 40th minutes.
The return of Mario Mandzukic -- the Bayern Munich striker who finished second in Bundesliga scoring last season was suspended against Brazil -- added another dimension to an already dangerous attack. It was Mandzukic's run that created the space for Ivica Olic's opener (following a marvelous field-switching ball from Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric and then Ivan Perisic's seeing-eye assist). And Mandzukic got on the score sheet twice in the second half. His header made it 3-0, and he added a tap-in fourth goal. Perisic had effectively ended the match with Croatia's second goal less than three minutes after the break.
It's hard to make too much of how Niko Kovac's team dominated late, although the goals could be a huge factor for them later on (more on that below). But there's no doubt Croatia will take plenty of confidence from this result into their now-decisive Group A finale against Mexico.
2. The Eto'o era is over
It came as no surprise that Samuel Eto'o was on the bench. The superstar striker and longtime face of the Indomitable Lions tweeted Monday that the knee injury that slowed him against El Tri would prevent him from participating Wednesday.
The doctors confirm! I would probably not be able to play the match vs Croatia on Wed, june18th due to an injury on my knee causing me pain.- Samuel Eto'o (@setoo9) June 15, 2014
But it was still hard to see one of the best African players of all time sit there and glumly watch as his country was taken to the woodshed. It must have been excruciating for Eto'o; at 33, surely this is his final World Cup. After 117 caps and 56 goals in an international career that began when he was only 16 years old, it was a tough way to go out.
Here's hoping that Eto'o, who has played at club level for the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea, can recover quickly enough to play some part in Cameroon's now-meaningless last match against Brazil. It would be a fitting send-off for one of this generation's greats.
3. Croatia-Mexico will be huge
Assuming host Brazil beats Cameroon, the Croats can't win the group. Although Mexico will have an extra day of rest, and although Croatia has the harder travel (from Manaus to Recife), the four-spot Kovac's team put up Wednesday gives them great momentum going into the Mexico game. Yes, they'll need to beat El Tri to advance, but so far the team has looked up to any challenge. They hung tough with Brazil and simply outclassed Cameroon. Mexico just needs a tie to advance in second place, but you can bet they'll get all they want and more from this talented Croatia team, making the June 23 match an absolute can't-miss.