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Soccer-Fit Modric and debutant Mandzukic to lead Croatia charge

Reuters

By Zoran Milosavljevic

MANAUS, Brazil, June 17 (Reuters) - Midfielder Luka Modric and available-again striker Mario Mandzukic will spearhead Croatia's effort to keep alive their hopes of reaching the World Cup last 16 when they face Cameroon on Wednesday, coach Niko Kovac said.

Modric has recovered from a foot injury he sustained in the opening 3-1 Group A defeat by Brazil while Mandzukic will make his World Cup debut after serving a one-match ban for being sent off in the second leg of Croatia's playoff win over Iceland.

"We are delighted to have Mandzukic back, any coach would be and talking about his qualities would be totally superfluous so he will lead the line tomorrow," Kovac told a news conference after evening training on Tuesday.

"Modric is 100 percent fit, he came through training and there is no question he will be ready.

"This is a make or break game for both teams and the fact that Cameroon have to take risks too can help us get into our stride and fire on all cylinders.

"We will do all we can to come away with all three points against a very strong and disciplined team, who will pose a threat despite the fact that they will be missing (striker) Samuel Eto'o.

"I am sure their coach Volker Finke has a plan B and any player who replaces Eto'o will be raring to go."

Cameroon lost their opening fixture to Mexico 1-0 and have won only one game in their last five World Cup campaigns, a 1-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia in the 2002 tournament's group stage.

While Nikica Jelavic will make way for Mandzukic The question remains whether and to what extent Kovac will reshuffle his midfield, which lacked spark and creativity against Brazil after an insipid performance from Mateo Kovacic, who failed to make the best use of Modric's and Ivan Rakitic's hard work.

Marcelo Brozovic or Brazilian-born Sammir could be thrown into the fray but Kovac remained tight-lipped about his starting line-up, adding that the almost unbearable heat and humidity in the city surrounded by the Amazon jungle would be no excuse.

"Sammir is a good player and I know who will start but I won't tell you because I have 23 players at my disposal and they are all ready to carry their weight if selected.

"The weather is uncomfortable, it was difficult for the players until they broke sweat but they felt a bit better as they got on with practice.

"We have to accept the conditions and can't use them as an excuse if we falter because they are the same for both teams." (editing by Justin Palmer)

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