TV Coverage: ESPN in English and Univision in Spanish in the United States. In Mexico, Televisa, TV Azteca will have the match on TV and the Cinepolis theater chain will be showing the match on the big screens.
What Mexico Needs to Accomplish: Get a result. Any result will do. Draw or victory and Mexico is going through. Lose and Mexico is going home (unless you think Brazil is losing by 3-4 goals against Cameroon). To get that result the Mexico attack is going to have to finish better than it has thus far in the tournament with only one goal officially on the scoresheet and hold down a Croatia attack that is potent and also a different style than Brazil.
Key Player for Mexico: Jose Vazquez. Despite keeping a clean sheet thus far in the World Cup, Mexico has been underwhelming, only being saved against Brazil by Guillermo Ochoa’s heroics. Knowing that and the problems in the backfield, Vazquez needs to step forward as the defensive midfielder. The Croatia attack is powered by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in the midfield with Mario Mandzukic as the striker. Croatia is similar to Bosnia and Herzegovina (they play a similar style out of the same formation) and Mandzukic has a similar skill set to Bosnia striker Eden Dzeko who while not scoring destroyed the Mexico backline in a pre-World Cup friendly. For Mexico to win, Vazquez needs to eliminate or severely hamper Modric and/or Rakitic when Croatia has the ball. Doing so would neutralize one scoring threat and hopefully also keep Mandzukic from getting the ball in dangerous space where he can punish the slow of foot Mexico defense.
Key Player for Croatia: Luka Modric. Modric is one of the engines that makes Croatia go, but he had a terrible game against Brazil in the opener. He was better against Cameroon, but there are questions as to how valid that was given that Cameroon lost their heads and melted down entirely over the course of the game. As one of the two best players Croatia has (along with striker Mario Mandzukic), Modric needs to put his stamp on this game, likely with a goal or directly setting up Mandzukic, for Croatia to win.
Tactics: Mexico’s 5-3-2 formation that has helped cover up its obvious defensive issues will likely need to come out of its shell a bit in this game as another 0-0 draw is unlikely (though Mexico would go through to the knockout round with that result). Still, expect a conservative approach until the first goal is scored as Croatia has the talent and most importantly speed to exploit the Mexico backline on the counter if too many men are sent forward.
Croatia plays a 4-2-3-1 formation that allows for all manner of attack from different angles. Of note in that 3 is where Modric and Rakitic patrol. Both often switch from the center to the wings and switch sides regularly. Whichever wing one is playing (with the other usually in the center) is where the attack is more likely to develop with the tall Mandzukic capable of scoring either by header in the center or by poaching a goal of a scramble or rebound.
One Big Advantage: Mandzukic is a better player striker than any of Mexico’s collection and he is facing a backline that could struggle against a player like him. In a game that appears mostly even, having a player like Mandzukic who can get a goal with just a moment of inattention from the defense is a big plus. Add to that Mandzukic’s other skills and the Mexico backline will have its hands full, especially if Modric is on form.
Final Prediction: Mandzukic will have a strong game up front and will either score himself or set up one of his teammates. That will be the only Croatia goal and despite Mexico’s lack of finishing thus far, it has created enough chances to think it can score at least one. Still, expect a frantic final few minutes as Croatia searches for the winning goal.
Mexico 1, Croatia 1