Kovac: Croatia can play with the best

Croatia coach Niko Kovac hailed the return of striker Mario Mandzukic and said his squad can compete with the world's best teams after Wednesday's 4-0 victory over Cameroon.

Mandzukic was suspended for the first match after being dismissed in Croatia's final qualification playoff, but returned with two goals in the second half against Cameroon.

And Kovac welcomed back his star forward after sorely missing him in the opener against Brazil.

"Any coach would be happy to have such a player in their team," Kovac said. "He's not only a goal-getter or goal scorer, his attitude picks his team up. This shows how important he is for this team and what kind of service the team can expect from him. Unfortunately, he could not play in the first match."

"This is a very aggressive team. They have plenty of energy and play vertically. They were capable of threatening Brazil. This group is one of the most difficult groups in the World Cup. I trust my lads and believe we will have time to recover for the match."

"What is for sure is that with a player such as Mandzukic we looked different."

Mandzukic said his suspension gave him more time to get ready for Cameroon.

"I felt good," he said. "I was well-prepared because I got some extra training after missing the first game. The whole team worked as well. We are all happy but there is still room for improvement and progress of course. The goals came as a reward, but all I think about is to win."

Croatia now face a crucial match against Mexico, needing a victory to advance should Brazil earn at least a point against Cameroon as expected.

"This is behind us. No time to celebrate, we have work to do and the hardest task meets us five days from now," Kovac said. "My team showed they wanted to win and they deserved it. I don't want to belittle what we achieved. I know that this team has the strength potential and knowledge to be at par with the best of them.

"We know what awaits us against Mexico and what kind of an opponent they are. This is the final for us and this is the final that everybody wants to win."

Kovac also said his said was not discouraged by the defeat to Brazil entering Wednesday's match.

"After Brazil, I am optimistic. Anybody can lose to Brazil," he said. "The question is the manner in which you are defeated and that manner instilled a great deal of hope and belief in my team. I'm sure and I hope that we will find the quality in five days' time.

"What I do know is that in our first game, tactically we were excellent. The lads showed that on the pitch and today as well. But as I always say, we can talk, draw, prepare, and arrange what we want, but it has to be converted into reality on the pitch.

"The success is proof of our labors and our thinking. We are doing our part, the coaching staff, and the players are doing their part."