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    Croatia

    Niko Kovac's has named Croatia's preliminary 30-man squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

    Kovac is set to trim seven players from the list after a friendly with Mali on 31 May. Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic are the star names and will be hoping to make their mark against hosts Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon in Group A.

    Squad:

    Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Locomotive)

    Defenders: Dario Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), John Strinic (Dnipro), Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa) Igor Bubnjic (Udinese)

    Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Niko Kranjcar (QPR), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Internazionale), Sean Lynch (HSV), Ivo Ilicevic ( HSV), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (River), Mario Pasalic (FC), Sammir (Getafe)

    Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull City), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina), Duje Cop (Dinamo Zagreb)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Kranjcar to miss World Cup

    Queens Park Rangers midfielder Niko Kranjcar will miss out on the FIFA World Cupô for Croatia through injury.

    The 29-year-old limped off 33 minutes into the Hoops' 1-0 Championship play-off victory over Derby County at Wembley on Saturday with a hamstring injury which has ruined his chances of adding to his 81 international caps in Brazil.

    "Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar will miss the World Cup due to hamstring injury," the Croatian Football Federation's official Twitter feed posted on Monday afternoon.

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    Eduardo: If only I had the chance to sing both anthems

    As a small boy, scoring goal after goal on the pitches of Vila Kennedy, Rio de Janeiro, there can be little doubt Eduardo da Silva will Ė like untold millions of other Brazilian youngsters Ė have dreamed of one day representing A SeleÁ„o at the FIFA World Cupô. And yet, though he is likely to play a part in the Opening Match of Brazil 2014 at Arena de Sao Paulo on 12 June, which features the host nation, it will not be in the colours of the country of his birth, but of adopted homeland Croatia.

    Mixed feelings are, therefore, sure to arise for the 31-year-old striker, who spent eight years in Croatia after first arriving in 1999 and has represented the Vatreni for the past decade. While vowing that his ďheart is now CroatianĒ, the former Dinamo Zagreb and Arsenal player Ė currently plying his trade for Ukraineís Shakhtar Donetsk Ė spoke fully and frankly to FIFA.com about everything surrounding the Opening Match and how he will handle such a pivotal moment in his lengthy career.

    FIFA.com: You missed the opportunity of playing at Germany 2006, after then coach Zlatko Kranjcar suggested you were too young, while four years later Croatia failed to qualify. Now, with the World Cup to take place in your birth country, youíll make your competition debut in the colours of another nation...
    Eduardo da Silva:
    Without a doubt this is a little odd, but I see it as a great opportunity too. I have missed three major tournaments, because there was [UEFA] EURO 2008 as well, when I was still recovering from injury. I experienced what it was like to play [at a major competition] at EURO 2012, but your first World Cup is something special. I could never have imagined this situation: to be Brazilian and have the chance to play in a World Cup in your own country, but in the shirt of another national team. And on top of that, just to complicate things, thereís the Opening Match between the two countries. I could never have imagined such a huge coincidence.

    FIFA.com: And with Mario Mandzukic ruled out of the fixture, thereís an even greater chance of you being selected. Have you been preparing mentally for the occasion?
    Eduardo: A few days before I joined the squad, when I was still focusing on playing for my club in the Ukrainian league, I hadnít really stopped to think about it. But now that I have already spent the first few days with the squad, that the team have started their preparations and are focused on this next step, you start to think about it more, to imagine what this moment is going to be like. And this is really it now. Iím preparing myself mentally and physically for this match.

    FIFA.com: Can you imagine what itís going to be like when the two sides are lined up before the game and the national anthems are playing?
    Eduardo:
    Look, Iím a Brazilianand Iíll always be a Brazilian, but I have a great love for Croatia, a real feeling for the supporters and for my team-mates. I think I can say it like this: my blood is Brazilian, but my heart is now Croatian. Itíll be a difficult moment for me, Iím sure you understand. If only I had the chance to sing both anthems. I think I am going to feel torn.

    FIFA.com: And what would be the perfect result in this game?
    Eduardo:
    Itís difficult to forecast. I prefer not to talk about the result. What I can say is that a perfect outcome would be for Croatia to put on a great show. Brazil are the favourites to win the whole World Cup, not just this match, but I believe that Croatia are preparing very well and are well capable of producing a big performance.

    FIFA.com: Since the draw for the group stage and this particular match arose, you have been in a certain way the centre of attention. Have the Croatian supporters said anything about it, or made any jokes about the situation you find yourself in?
    Eduardo: Yes, people are talking about it a lot, but generally it has been intended to spur us on. Many people have said that it will be me that scores the winning goal. Others have said that I will come on with 20 minutes to go and score a goal. It acts as a motivational factor because it shows you how immersed everyone is. And it has its other side too, where some people say that I should make sure not to score an own-goal! But I take it all in the right spirit, itís all part of the process.

    FIFA.com: And in Vila Kennedy, how are the fans reacting there? Do people joke with your family about all of this or will everybody be supporting Croatia because of you?
    Eduardo: Look, itís not something I find easy to talk about. There are some things that are better kept quiet. But as far as my friends are concerned, many of them joke that Brazil are going to win, but that it will be me who scores the Croatia goal. Itís more or less in this way that people are approaching it.

    FIFA.com: Apart from yourself, Croatia can count on another Brazilian in their World Cup squad. Will you and Sammir be able to offer any guidance to your team-mates and coach Nico Kovac? Do people come to you to ask about technical issues or share little tips, for example?
    Eduardo: Yes, and itís understandable that they should do that. That said, sometimes I cannot help much, because I donít know that much about Brazil as a whole, basically just Rio de Janeiro. However, the staff have been looking after this side of things for some time now, have been to Brazil a number of times, gathered all the information we need and just occasionally come to confirm things with me, ask me little things. I do my utmost to offer help.

    FIFA.com: How do you see Brazil and what have you had to say to coach Kovac about their current form?
    Eduardo: Before the Confederations Cup, Brazil had lost a little of their aura, but things have changed a lot and the whole world has now gone back to talking about the strength of this squad. Itís a squad with young, hungry players, who want to win the title for the sixth time and do it on home soil. They are the big favourites to win the World Cup but a lot will depend on this first game with Croatia. The Opening Game is always tough: itís a game with a lots of nerves and huge pressure on the players. If Brazil win, they can lift some of this pressure and go a long way, but if they fail to win, they will have lots of problems for the remaining games.

    FIFA.com: If they donít win, that will be because Croatia played a great game themselves. With this in mind, how far can your team go?
    Eduardo: The objective is to reach the knockout phase. If that can be accomplished, we will already be facing a Ďfinalí against either the Netherlands, Spain or Chile, which are all really dangerous teams. And if Croatia get through this round too, we can go on to emulate the France 1998 performance (when they reached the last four) or go even further. We are full of confidence and have the complete backing of the media and the fans. It is really positive for us because they recognise that we have a strong generation of players, one of the best in our history. We need to confirm that this is true, go as far as possible in the tournament and try and surpass the achievements of the Ď98 generation. Weíll do everything in our power to accomplish this.

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    Modric, Manduzkic lead Croatia's World Cup squad

    Croatia coach Niko Kovac named his 23-man squad for the FIFA World Cupô led by experienced stars including Luka Modric of Real Madrid and Bayer Munich striker Mario Manduzkic.

    The Croatians kick off the tournament on 12 June against hosts Brazil in the opening match. Since he had named a 30-man provisional squad in mid-May, Kovac had to rule out four injured internationals - Queens Park Ranger's Niko Kranjcar, Hamburg duo Milan Badelj and Ivo Ilicevic and Ivan Strinic of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

    Young players such as Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper Oliver Zelenika, currently on loan at Lokomotiva, as well as Rijeka midfielder Ivan Mocinic, both aged 21, have also found a place in the squad. Kovac announced the squad after a friendly against Mali which Croatia won 2-1.

    "We can do better than this ... players told me that they are really too tired," the 42-year-old former Croatia captain said after the warm-up in the eastern town of Osijek. The FIFA deadline for naming squads is Monday.

    The Croatia squad includes two Brazilian-born players -- forward Eduardo Silva of Shakhtar Donetsk and midfielder Sammir, both former Dinamo Zagreb key players.

    The 'Fiery Ones' (Vatreni) are to leave for Brazil on Tuesday and will play their last World Cup warm-up match on 6 June against Australia.

    Croatia's Group A also includes Cameroon and Mexico. Croatia's best result at a World Cup was third in 1998 in France, but they failed to qualify for South Africa in 2010.

    Croatia squad

    Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov/RUS), Danijel Subasic (Monaco/FRA), Oliver Zelenika (Lokomotiva Zagreb)
    Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk/UKR), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev/UKR), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa/ITA), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos/GRE), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow/RUS), Dejan Lovren (Southampton/ENG), Gordon Schindelfeld (Panathinaikos/GRE)
    Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid/ESP), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla/ESP), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan/ITA), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev/UKR), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Sammir (Getafe/ESP)
    Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich/GER), Nikica Jelavic (Hull City/ENG), Ivica Olic (VfL Wolfsburg/GER), Eduardo Da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk/UKR), Ivan Perisic (VfL Wolfsburg/GER), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina/ITA)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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    Suker: I hope Croatia can do even better than 1998

    Davor Suker knows all too well what it takes to leave a mark at the FIFA World Cup™. At France 1998, he fired unfancied Croatia to third place and pocketed the adidas Golden Boot in the process. The former Sevilla, Real Madrid and Arsenal striker hung up his boots in 2003, but he will be involved in his country’s quest for success in Brazil as president of the Croatian Football Federation (HNS). FIFA.com caught up with the 46-year-old to hear about his admiration for the host nation, what Brazilians and Croatians have in common, the Opening Match in Sao Paulo and the formula required to spring a surprise at the World Cup.

    FIFA.com: Davor, you were known as a very skillful and very technical striker who loved the beautiful game. What are your emotions when you think of Brazilian football?
    Suker: The world's best footballers have always come from Brazil. When you walk on the beach, you can see people playing football. Sao Paulo, Salvador, it's everywhere. And that's nice! I have always admired them for going out to play beautiful football with all their quality, to entertain the fans and to score as many goals as possible. It's very special for me to experience this World Cup here in this country.

    What will make this World Cup special?
    It's always the question of how much you invest in your talent during your childhood and as a teenager, when you play in school and in the streets and work on your skills and tricks. I personally like players who work as hard on the training pitch as in the stadium, even when dealing with high expectations. This is what quality is about. Especially at this World Cup, each team has got so much quality in the midfield and the attack. I am sure we will enjoy it.

    Do you see similarities between Brazilians and Croatians?
    My country has around four to five million people. We respect all sports. We do it in handball, basketball, water polo, tennis and many more. In school, we had a joke: just give us one single ball and we can play all sports. I think that this extreme passion for the ball is something we definitely share with the Brazilians.

    Croatia will face hosts Brazil in the Opening Match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup...
    This is a dream come true! You have to imagine: World Cup... in Brazil... there will not only be a full stadium in Sao Paulo, but also TV and radio from everywhere. The entire world will watch this match. We are a small part of the game. We are a small but very proud country. Everyone will give us respect and we will give all we have. Whichever side is better will be the one that takes these three points.

    The Brazilians are under pressure as they are faced with high expectations. Is that an advantage for Croatia?
    No! It's not important what they write in the newspapers. The important thing is what happens when 11 play against 11 on the pitch. When the referee blows his whistle, that's when it starts to count.

    You used to be one of the world's finest strikers. Who is your favourite to win the adidas Golden Boot at this World Cup?
    Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Mario Mandzukic, Neymar, Fred... there are currently so many good players in each team. It's very difficult to say. But there is always one surprise player that can score many goals. I hope that we will score more goals than we concede. I am sure we will have a great World Cup and see good strikers and I would like to see some Croatian strikers top the goal-scorers' ranking.

    Thinking of Bulgaria, Korea Republic, Turkey, Portugal or Uruguay, since the 1994 World Cup there has always been one surprise team in the semi-finals. In 1998, it was Croatia's golden generation including yourself. Who can surprise this time?
    We dream about that. If I could change anything, I would start with the many injuries we have but that's part of the game, too. Just play and enjoy football, that's our device. I hope that Croatia can surprise the same way we surprised in 1998. We will need to be quiet and prepare slowly. What we will do is what we know: play football. The surprise team can also be, for example, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium or Chile.

    What is the perfect mix that an underdog needs to cause a surprise at a World Cup?
    You need to play well, have good midfielders, have a strong collective and a good forward that scores many goals. This is the formula. And of course, you need to begin with no expectations. Who can expect a surprise?

    Are you proud about the fact that players from the golden generation of 1998 are the idols of today's Croatia team?
    Yes! All these young players watched us at the World Cup 1998. I am very proud that I was able to be on the pitch to decide games. Later, I was a fan and now, I am the President helping the national team.

    Is there also something that you would have liked to have in 1998 from today's Croatian team?
    (laughs) It's not easy to answer this question! I wish Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic can be able to play like Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Aljosa Asanovic. I wish Mario Mandzukic, Nikica Jelavic and Eduardo can score goals like I did back then. But first we need to play well as a team, that's the first point. I don't like comparisons. It's a completely different team with a new style of modern football. As we know, football changes every ten years. I wish them all the best and hope they do even better than us in 1998.

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    Croatia vow to attack Brazil

    Croatia vowed on Wednesday to try to create a "miracle" when they take on mighty Brazil in the 2014 FIFA World Cupô opener, refusing to adopt a negative approach against the star-studded home side. Captain Darijo Srna, speaking a day before the clash in Sao Paulo, said he could not make promises about how the team would perform in the tournament but pledged they would give 100 per cent.

    "I can't promise to win the World Cup or to progress out of the group. I can't promise to beat Brazil but it is a promise that we will give our all, the last atom of strength," he said. The side, ranked 18th in the world, are led by experienced stars such as Real Madrid midfield star Luka Modric and Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, who misses the opening match though suspension. Srna said the prospect of coming up against the favourites and their talisman Neymar at the Corinthians Arena was causing him some concern, joking that he might lock the forward in his hotel room as a last resort.

    "I'm not sleeping that well. We are playing the best footballers on the planet," he said. But he added: "We, little Croatia, will try to create a miracle." Coach Niko Kovac said he was not losing sleep about the prospect of Neymar wreaking havoc for the five-times world champions, insisting he had had months to prepare for the task.

    "Brazil is not just Neymar. There are many other good players in the Brazil side," he said. "We will try everything to surprise them, to create an upset, to create a positive result," added the coach, who said his side, who like to play possession football, were capable of a "historic result". "We are not going to park the bus tomorrow," he said. "We are going to attack. We are going to seek our chances because Brazil are so strong that if you want success against them you have to score."

    The Group A rivals also met in the first round of the World Cup in 2006 in Germany, with Brazil edging the match 1-0. The other teams in their group in Brazil are Cameroon and Mexico. Injured midfielder Ivan Mocinic, 21, is the fourth player from the Croat squad to be forced to drop out because of injury with Milan Badelj taking his place. Croatia's best performance at a World Cup was reaching the 1998 semi-finals, but they failed to qualify in 2010.

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    Modric back to training after foot scan

    Croatia playmaker Luka Modric should be fit to resume training after being given the all-clear following a foot problem, the Croatian Football Federation said today. The 28-year-old Real Madrid star suffered a blow to his foot during Thursday's FIFA World Cupô Opening Match, a 3-1 defeat by Brazil at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

    "Luka felt pain after receiving a blow against Brazil," said the CFF. "He underwent an MRI scan which revealed there was no break nor damage to ligaments." Modric has since returned to Croatia's Mata de Sao Joao base camp near Salvador and is due to resume training. Croatia next play Cameroon, who also lost their opening match, 1-0 to Mexico, in Manaus on Wednesday before ending their Group A campaign against El Tri in Recife on 23 June.

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    Pranjic called in from the cold

    It is the stuff of footballing dreams, stepping out onto the sacred Arena de Sao Paulo turf in front of a frenzied crowd of over 60,000 in the Opening Match of the 2014 FIFA World Cupô against no less a team than five-time world champions Brazil. An unforgettable moment like that would be the pinnacle of most professional careers. But every coin has a flip side, and there can hardly be anything worse for a pro than missing out on this once-in-a-lifetime event, especially if you knew you would certainly have been in the thick of the action if circumstances had not conspired against you.

    Against that background, Mario Mandzukic and Danijel Pranjic rate as the most unlucky men in the Croatia squad. Suspension and injury meant neither played any part in the 3-1 defeat to A SeleÁ„o last Thursday. "Being forced to watch from the sidelines was genuinely tough. You gear yourself up for the World Cup but the dream dies just before it starts," Pranjic confessed when he spoke to FIFA.

    Irreplaceable Mandzukic
    But despite the disappointment life goes on and the pair are now hoping for World Cup debuts against Cameroon. "It's all-or-nothing for both teams. The losers will pack their bags and go home. We have to be ready for everything and play like it was our last match," Pranjic continued. In the Opening Match against the hosts, the Croats sorely missed the player nicknamed Mandzu, who plays his club football for German double winners Bayern. The striker was a key figure in his country's successful qualifying campaign, not only posing a constant threat in the penalty box but also keeping opposing defences busy and bothered for the full 90 minutes. "He definitely makes us stronger and you can't replace him like-for-like. He's prepared to go out and Ďdieí for the cause. Lajic [Nikica Jelavic] did really well against Brazil but Mario is Mario. We need him. Weíre a totally different team without him," Pranjic remarked. The utility man and Mandzukic came within an ace of belonging to the same club, but Pranjic left Bayern in 2012 only days before the big striker arrived in Munich. The pair are now set to play on the same team for the first time should both be selected for the Cameroon clash.

    Back from banishment
    The wheel is about to come full circle for Pranjic who has had a bumpy ride in the national team and was banished to the international wilderness until recently. He won his first senior cap in 2004 and was a non-playing member of the Germany 2006 squad before featuring at UEFA EURO 2008. But his frustration boiled over and he later went public with criticism of the team management, causing coach Slaven Bilic to throw him out of the squad in 2011. Bilicís successor Igor Stimac was in no mood to forgive. By contrast to top striker Mandzukic, who appeared in all 12 qualifying matches and scored four goals, the 32-year-old midfielder was ignored for the duration of the regular ten-game qualifying campaign. A change of coach meant a dramatic upturn in Pranjicí fortunes: Niko Kovac had by no means forgotten his former team-mate and summoned him back into the squad for the play-off double-header against Iceland.

    Pranjic started both legs of the clash with the Scandinavians and looked a regular in the making throughout the Croatsí pre-tournament preparations. Kovac is a big admirer of the former Bayern playerís determination and versatility, as he is equally at home in defence or tirelessly pounding the left flank in midfield. The World Cup starts in earnest for Pranjic and Mandzukic on Wednesday in Manaus. And should the eastern Europeans win their first match at the finals since 2002, it would at least in part compensate for the pain and frustration of missing out on the Opening Match.

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    Mandzukic eager to face Cameroon

    Croatian star Mario Mandzukic says he is eager to face Cameroon on Wednesday after the striker missed the FIFA World Cupô opener against Brazil through suspension. The 28-year-old striker played a key role in helping his nation reach the World Cup but missed the Opening Match because of a red card he picked up against Iceland in November. "It is every player's dream to play at a world tournament. I'm eager to play, eager to prove myself together with my team," he said.

    "I hope that my first appearance at a World Cup will be marked with a positive outcome," he told reporters. Mandzukic, who recently announced he was leaving German side Bayern Munich, admitted he was "waiting for the day to play again". He said: "We came to the World Cup to win, and we have to win against both Cameroon and Mexico. I'm positive and believe that we can make the first step. I am training very hard and this is maybe one of the most important matches. We are ready."

    Coach Niko Kovac echoed Mandzukic's optimism and stressed that he was relying mostly on him for a victory. He said: "Every coach should be happy to have him [Mandzukic] in the team. I know that Mandzukic will pull for a win."

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    Kovac: Take rest before 'serious' test

    Niko Kovac will give his Croatia players all the downtime they need to prepare for a FIFA World Cupô showdown with Mexico after overseeing a four-goal dismantling of Cameroon. Croatia responded in the best possible way to their opening-night defeat to tournament hosts Brazil by putting Cameroon to the sword in Manaus, with Mario Mandzukic scoring twice in a comprehensive 4-0 win for Kovac's side.

    While the Africans are eliminated from the finals before meeting Brazil in the last round of Group A games, Croatia are tasked with plotting Mexico's downfall. The Vatreni must beat Miguel Herrera's side in Recife on Monday to reach the last 16, and Kovac is all too aware of the size of the task after watching Mexico hold Brazil to a goalless draw earlier this week. "The match against Mexico will be like a final," he told Croatian television station HTV. "We have to get some rest, because a serious opponent awaits. Mexico are strong, but so are we. The Mexico players are very patriotic, just like us, and they have a great team spirit. They play some aggressive football with a lot of pressing. They are strong going forward, but also have some weaknesses in defence, like Brazil showed us."

    Ivica Olic opened the scoring against Cameroon shortly before half-time at the Arena Amazonia, with Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic putting the result well beyond doubt following the interval. Kovac was naturally satisfied with the overall performance and final score but admitted to having harboured early concerns over his team's slow start in the rainforest. The 42-year-old added: "We weren't on top of our game in the opening five to ten minutes and Cameroon created some chances. But then we found our rhythm. Olic scored and that opened up the game for us. We could have scored even more goals. I can only congratulate the players, though. They won in very difficult conditions. It was hard to sit or stand, let alone run around on the pitch."

    Volker Finke, the Cameroon coach, is likely to field an experimental line-up in the Indomitable Lions' upcoming dead-rubber clash with Brazil in Brasilia. Cameroon were always up against it but life became much harder when Barcelona midfielder Alex Song was sent off for lashing out at Mandzukic. Yet well-travelled German tactician Finke played down the impact of the dismissal, saying: "It's a tough result to take. It's always difficult to play with ten men, but that's still no excuse for tonight's performance.

    "There's no doubt that Croatia were more clinical in front of goal, but Cameroon also had chances to score. We need to move on and look to the future, because this team is full of promising players." Song later apologised for his part in the off-the-ball scuffle with Mandzukic which resulted in the Barcelona man heading back to the changing rooms ahead of schedule. In a statement, the 26-year-old said: "I'm very sad at the moment as I feel I have let my country and myself down. It was a stupid moment and I'm truly sorry. If I could do anything to take it back I would. Please forgive me."

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