This one is set up nicely with the winner certain to go through and the loser almost certain to go out. The draw will be good enough to put Mexico in the last 16 due to their goal difference advantage, but it’s highly unlikely to be enough for Croatia, so the need for them to win the game is clear.
They have impressed so far, with 34-year-old Ivica Olic rolling back the years with some energetic surges down the left. In midfield, there’s top quality in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, while the importance of Mario Mandzukic to their forward line was highlighted when he returned from suspension to score twice in their demolition of Cameroon in the week. It’s easy to argue that had the Bayern Munich man played against Brazil in the opener, the result could well have been different.
Mexico will be no pushovers though and their solidity so far has seen them keep two clean sheets. They love to press and close down but it will be hard to do that for the full 90 minutes in the heat and humidity of Recife – the latter is expected to be above 80%. The quality of Croatia’s forward play is the key for me in this one and I am siding with them. They produced plenty of attacking football and they will need to do the same here. Brazil showed Mexico will struggle to deny a good side chances and keeper Guillermo Ochoa won’t bail them out every game.
Of course, Mexico will be capable of hitting Croatia on the break, especially if things are still tight late on – indeed this game looks a prime opportunity for in-play betting. Still, in a tournament in which attacking verve has trumped defensive dourness, I am happy to back Croatia simply to win the match.
Some stats to consider; Mexico have won only seven of their 30 World Cup games against European opposition. Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic has scored with both of his shots on target so far. Croatia have never won their final group game at a World Cup (D1 L2). Mexico haven’t won their final group game at a World Cup since 1986 (on home soil).
2 units – Croatia win (+160)
-0.10 units (6-7)