Good evening, night owls, obsessives, shift workers and insomniacs! Well, what a day it has been, with Australia and the Netherlands playing the most thrilling match of the tournament so far and Spain and Chile following that up with a fair amount of drama of their own. Our last match today is between Croatia and Cameroon, and one of these teams may well be eliminated from the competition within a couple of hours from now. Croatia put in a solid ninety minutes from their opening match against Brazil and were a little unfortunate to come away from it empty-handed, while Cameroon were less than impressive against Mexico and were, in some respects, lucky to have escaped having lost by just the one goal.

If there’s one player worth tuning into this match for, it’s Real Madrid’s Luka Modric. Elegant and ghost-like, Modric is quite simply a joy to watch. He’s worth the price of admittance on his own, and it’s difficult, on the basis of what we saw from them against Mexico last week, to imagine that Cameroon will be able contain him. And what Modric brings to the Croatia team is extremely valuable. He is an orchestrator, a conduit through which the vast majority of their best football is played. And I would be surprised if Croatia weren’t too strong for Cameroon this evening. Having said that, however, stranger things have happened before and, let’s face it, we’re learning to expect the unexpected at this tournament. Markus Murphic and I will be back shortly before kick-off to guide you through the match. And probably quite a long way off topic, as well.

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Mark June 19, 20141:07 am

Night all.

Mark June 19, 20141:06 am

Yes, Croatia/Mexico has “humdinger” written all over it (I’m covering Brazil/Cameroon by the looks). But history favours Mexico, because – as Andy Zaltzman (he of junkleclunks fame) said: “(Mexico) could be drawn in a group with the 1970s Brazilians, Barcelona from 2011 and Genghis Khan’s all-conquering Mongolia team of the early 13th-century, and they would find a way to get through. Before losing to Bogsworth Primary’s under-9 Bs in the second round.”
Meanwhile, back in the pram, a picture that tells a thousand words…don’t worry I’ll keep it briefer. Assou-Ekotto is in the player’s tunnel, sucking from what would look like a baby’s bottle even without the context, while Eto’o, ETO’O, tries on the role of peacemaker. Samuel Eto’o. Peacemaker. An oddball night and a half.
And finally, a double blow for England. Luis Suarez is fit for Uruguay. Diego Lugano isn’t.

Mark June 19, 201412:52 am

Nothing much became this game like the ending of it. Rebic hands a chance on a plate to Rakitic, who dinks the ball wide. And Webo’s powerful downward header bounces up onto the crossbar. Then Assou-Ekotto and Moukandjo go all Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan on each other (ask your parents) while Speight reminds us that Cameroon arrived late at the competition because of a row over win bonuses. An irony so obvious even Chiles references it before getting all moral high-groundy about Song one last time before the ad break.

Ian June 19, 201412:51 am

Well, there you are. Cameroon can share a plane back west with Spain. Croatia never needed to get out of second gear, really but I can’t imagine that they won’t have to work harder against Mexico in their final match. I still expect them to progress, even though Mexico are the World Cup’s “getting to the second round and getting knocked out” specialists.

Mark June 19, 201412:44 am

Salli goes past half the Croatian team and sets up Benjamin Moukandjo to…chuck a floater halfway up the stand to the right of goal. Then Itandje saves from Rebic. End-to-end stuff, borderline thrilling…if it was competitive.

Ian June 19, 201412:44 am

I’m watching this. I’m quite easily distracted:

Mark June 19, 201412:40 am

If Brazil don’t win this group now, Scolari should be sacked on the spot.

Mark June 19, 201412:38 am

In a competitive context, some of this second-half would be enjoyable. But, as Hoddle said, Cameroon have “self-imploded,” which sounded daft when he said it but neatly emphasises the extent of Cameroon’s implosion. So its all a bit of an intrusion on private grief. Ten minutes left. Blimey.

Ian June 19, 201412:35 am

Cameroon’s implosion is complete, then. They’re never going to recreate that 1990 team, are they?

Mark June 19, 201412:33 am

Oh for God’s sake! Four-nil. Substitute “Arsenal’s Eduardo” shoots low to Itandje’s right, he palms it out to a lonely Mandzukic, who could only have missed if he’d suffered a hugely ill-timed agoraphobic fit.

Mark June 19, 201412:28 am

Aboubakar is substituted, to be replaced by Pierre Webo, a veteran tree-trunk of many a Cameroon forward line in the past. All hope is lost.

Mark June 19, 201412:26 am

Perisic races clear and only has to square the ball to Sammir and its 4-0. He doesn’t and it isn’t. At the other end, Aboubakar is still giving it his all. However, its a lonely furrow he’s ploughing. But wait…Mbia finds him in space on the edge of the box and Aboubakar…fires 45 yards high. Eto’o is their second best player tonight.

Mark June 19, 201412:20 am

Speight has just recalled the Croatia/Australia game in 2006, and Graham Poll’s “three-card trick.” Ha-ha.
Meanwhile Mandzukic heads home Croatia’s third, from a corner, easy as you like, after the Croats wasted consecutive opportunities to fashion a chance.

Ian June 19, 201412:15 am

All Croatia have to do now is close this out, though more goals would be handy if they want to challenge at the top of the group.

Mark June 19, 201412:11 am

Cameroon sub Nounkeu has just volleyed over with what used to be a Van Basten but is now a “Cahill.” Apparently. Some football breaking out…

Mark June 19, 201412:09 am

Joel Matip’s nervous system is a complex affair. He’s just clutched his head after Mandzukic kicked him on the elbow. And if Mandzukic had shown similar strength and accuracy when clean through, it would be three-nil. “That’s a bad miss for someone of his quality,” says Dixon, That was a bad miss for someone of MY quality.

Mark June 19, 201412:06 am

Mind you, goal difference could make a difference, so Perisic’s run and left-foot shot to put Croatia two-up could be the start of something really special.

Mark June 19, 201412:03 am

Well, if Croatia had to win this one by five, they probably could. But they don’t. So this could be a LONG 45 minutes.

Mark June 19, 201412:00 am

Whenever I saw a kid hitting someone like that in the playground it came with a noise best spelt “Nyyuuuh,” followed by a pre-cry sniff and a declaration that “I’m telling teacher of you.” I wonder if Song went through that routine. And I wonder what Samuel Eto’o – not Song’s number one fan – said…or did…to him at half-time.

Terry June 18, 201411:53 pm

Your sacrifice won’t be forgotten, Mark.

Mark June 18, 201411:51 pm

Of course I picked this match (and games such as Japan/Greece) so that others didn’t have to. Its possibly a catholic thing, redemption for some past sins. I’m owed a fair few sins after that 45 minutes.

Mark June 18, 201411:48 pm

Aboubakar fires over to end the half…and Cameroon’s best spell of it. A weird half. “At this World Cup its difficult to call anything,” notes Chiles, remembering his pre-match “call.” Looking forward to Strachan’s reaction to the sending-off.

Ian June 18, 201411:48 pm

Half-time, and it’s Croatia 1-0 Cameroon. Well done, Ian. You decided to skip the other two matches today for this one. Back in fifteen minutes with a word search, or a crossword, or something.

Mark June 18, 201411:44 pm

About the most childish sending-off I’ve seen in a bit, applying a punch/slap to Mandzukic’s back which looked like a petulant seven-year-old losing his temper in the playground. A few minutes ago, Song was interesting a number of Premier League clubs. Now…maybe West Ham…

Ian June 18, 201411:42 pm

Oh, Alex Song. What the hell was that about?

Mark June 18, 201411:40 pm

N’Koulou gives Mandzukic a playful hand-off…as the Croat tries to take a throw-in. The referee lets both the foul and the foul throw go, possibly in disbelief at what he has just seen. Dixon suggests that Mandzukic looks like “he’s wearing roller-skates” when he’s tackled, which is an interesting version of “goes down too easily.” Dixon’s a decent broadcaster. But after Danny Murphy’s work earlier on, this sounds lazy.

Ian June 18, 201411:36 pm

i was just thinking that I wasn’t mising anything much by watching this with the sound turned off.

Mark June 18, 201411:30 pm

Modric and Rakitic being tightly man-marked. “Tick in the box for Cameroon,” says Dixon. Now, how about the other eight outfield players? Perisic looks like “nugget” Australian medium-fast bowler Peter Siddle, although I’m sure he’s tired of the comparison. And, yes, there’s bugger-all happening in the match.

Ian June 18, 201411:24 pm

I missed the pre-match. Matt Smith did the earlier game, didn’t he? I wonder if Chiles might have been… demoted?

Mark June 18, 201411:21 pm

Yep. Chiles’s prediction of a tight match is proving…yes..a load of junkleclunks. Mind you, my description of Perisic’s miss was as far wide of the mark. Delete “semi.”

Mark June 18, 201411:18 pm

Assou-Ekotto reminding Spurs fans what they’re missing. And speaking of missing, Perisic misses a semi-sitter. His passing is better than his shooting. “From corners, you have to mark people,” notes Dixon, correctly. Simple stuff, but Cameroon don’t seem to have covered it on the training ground.

Ian June 18, 201411:13 pm

Laters, Cameroon. I kind of like the idea of the final round of group matches all being played to lose because nobody wants to play Netherlands or Chile, or whatever.

(Mexico, BTW, I’ve been kind of disappointed with. They’re normally FUN and, much as I admired their resolve against Brazil last night, it’s difficult to love, if you see what I mean)

Mark June 18, 201411:13 pm

Perisic to Olic and its one-nil Hrvatska (ish). Not much more than a neat passing move but easily enough to open up the icky-kitted ones. Cameroon are going down…

Ian June 18, 201411:11 pm

Let me just get this off my chest. I absolutely loathe Cameroon’s kit. Those big, stupid shorts and little tight tops. They’ve got history for this, too, haven’t they? Remember that appalling all-in-one thing? Ick.

Mark June 18, 201411:08 pm

Mandzukic thrown judo-style to the floor by Stephane Mbia. a tell-tale sign of the “relegation six-pointer” status of this game.

Mark June 18, 201411:04 pm

Cameroon already look “free” of Eto’o’s “stifling” influence. Young Vinny Aboubakar looks “one to watch.”

Mark June 18, 201411:01 pm

Both teams in their first kits, for a change.

Ian June 18, 201411:00 pm

Junkleclunks, indeed. Evening, Mark. Can’t see myself staying on topic for too long this evening, unless I’m granted permission to write a Beowulf-length romantic poem about Luka Modric.

And let’s not completely rule that out.

Mark June 18, 201410:59 pm

And what does Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s headband actually DO???

Mark June 18, 201410:56 pm

Still plenty of opportunity for Ian to type “junkleclunks” though.

Mark June 18, 201410:53 pm

As we enter a post tiki-taka world, we will also be having a peep at Cameroon’s sans-Samuel Eto’o as the quite-easily-domitable Lions’ talisman/leader/old git who keeps getting in the way and is nothing like as good as he thinks he is has succumbed to injury.
Any loser tonight follows Spain out the tournament door, after both forgot the importance of not losing their first game. And if Real Madrid’s tournament continues in current fashion, Luka Modric’s Croatia are destined to flop. However, Ivan Rakitic’s and Mario Mandzukic’s Croatia were far better in defeat than Cameroon. “It promises to be a very tight affair,” says Adrian Chiles. And when is he ever wrong? Only two ITV studio pundits. The Hod (who believes Cameroon will “self-implode”) and Gordon Strachan, who has just dismissed Hoddle’s forecast England team as “good if the other team don’t have any attackers.” I like him. Speight and Dixon in the com-box. So the TV coverage should be way-below-average annoying.