By Sportswriter Michael Place
MANAUS, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Croatia coach Niko Kovac hailed the impact of Mario Mandzukic after the Bayern Munich striker returned from suspension to lead his team to a 4-0 drubbing of Cameroon in their World Cup group A clash on Wednesday.
Mandzukic scored two second-half goals as the African side were eliminated from the tournament with one group match still remaining.
Kovac said the 28-year-old's presence had lifted his teammates after the team's 3-1 loss to Brazil in their opening mach in Sao Paulo.
"Any coach would be happy to have such a player in his team. He is not just a goal-getter - his attitude picks the team up and affects the opposing side," Kovac said at his post-match press conference.
"The fact he scored twice shows how important he is for this team and what kind of service the team can expect from him," he said.
Ivica Olic opened the scoring at Arena Amazonia stadium with a powerful finish after Ivan Perisic's deft through ball.
Cameroon were reduced to 10 men late in the first half when Alexandre Song was shown a straight red card for a reckless right-handed swipe at Mandzukic.
Perisic scored his team's second after careering into the penalty area and drilling his shot past Charles Itandje.
Mandzukic's header made it 3-0 before the forward doubled his tally with an easy tap-in.
The result ends Cameroon's hopes of advancing beyond the group stage in Brazil and extends their miserable recent record at the World Cup finals.
The Indomitable Lions have managed just one victory on football's grandest stage - a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in 2002 - since they became the first African side to reach the tournament's last eight in 1990.
Croatia, meanwhile, still need to win their last group match against Mexico to be guaranteed a berth in the round of 16.
Kovac should have a full-strength squad to choose from for the June 23 clash in Recife.
In addition to Mandzukic's return, Croatia were boosted by the inclusion of Panathinaikos left-back Danijel Pranjic after an ankle injury.
Captain Luka Modric was also declared fit on the eve of the game after being in doubt with a foot injury.
Cameroon were without striker Samuel Eto'o, who failed to recover in time from a knee injury.
The managers of both teams promised to approach the match with an attacking mindset, and they lived up to their word.
But it was Cameroon who looked most dangerous early with Vincent Aboubakar, in particular, troubling Croatia's defence in the opening minutes.
The FC Lorient striker had an angled shot blocked in the second minute and then another strike cleared off the line.
He also showed deft dribbling skills, drawing a foul from Brazilian-born defender Jorge Sammir on the edge of the penalty box.
But the African outfit failed to capitalize on their early momentum. And it didn't take long for Croatia to make them pay.
The first blow came after Cameroon captain Nicolas Nkoulou failed to clear a Darijo Srna cross from the right.
Perisic pounced and threaded a pass to Olic, who drilled an unstoppable shot past Itandje.
Cameroon's frustration spilled over when Barcelona midfielder Song was dismissed for lashing out at Mandzukic.
It did not get any better for Volker Finke's side after the halftime break.
Perisic doubled the Croatians' lead with a barnstorming run into the area after intercepting a clearance and then coolly slotting past Itandje.
Mandzukic should have made it 3-0 a minute later but sprayed his shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The 28-year-old made amends by netting twice in quick succession.
The first came when, unmarked, he met a corner with a downward header. He added another from point-blank range after Itandje had parried away Eduardo's long-range effort.