Croatia kick-started their bid to reach the FIFA World Cup knockout stages with a resounding victory against ten-man Cameroon in Manaus.
Both sides had tasted defeat in their first Group A games but the draw between Brazil and Mexico yesterday had offered guaranteed qualification if either could win their two remaining fixtures. Croatia were on course to fulfil the first half of that requirement once Ivica Olić fired them into an early lead and the dismissal of Cameroon's Alex Song before the break aided their cause further. Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandžukić, twice, took full advantage with second-half goals.
Vincent Aboubakar's pace presented a threat for Cameroon in the early exchanges but their defensive fragility always offered Croatia opportunities at the other end. Niko Kovač's men exposed that vulnerability in the 11th minute when the African team failed to clear a cross and Perišić deftly cushioned the ball to the far post for the onrushing Olić to drive in emphatically.
Perišić should have made it two within six minutes but his scuffed effort was deflected wide by Charles Itandje. The contest remained neatly poised until the 40th minute when Song was sent off for an off-the-ball foul on Mandžukić and Croatia exploited their numerical superiority ruthlessly after the interval.
Perišić picked up a poor Itandje clearance on the halfway line and strode into the box before sweeping in the second goal on 48 minutes and the match was put to bed when Mandžukić (61) buried a header from Danijel Pranjić's corner.
Kovač introduced Eduardo and Mateo Kovačić with the points secure and both substitutes were involved in the fourth goal. Kovačić found Eduardo on the edge of the area and though his curling attempt was kept out by Itandje, Mandžukić was on hand to tap in the loose ball and confirm a final-day showdown with Mexico.