- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) - Croatia coach Niko Kovac is trying to combine some traits he learned in Germany with the Balkan flair and unpredictability in his World Cup game plan, and so far his players like it.

The ex-Croatia midfielder was born and raised in Germany, spending years playing in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburger SV and Bayern Munich. He’s pushing professionalism and a winning mentality in his Croatia squad.

“Kovac played in Germany for so long and that’s why he has that German mentality,” Croatia forward Ivan Perisic said Saturday. “It is important for us because that is exactly what we sometimes need.”

Kovac, 42, played 83 times and scored 14 goals for Croatia. Some players he now coaches, including Darijo Srna and Ivica Olic, were his teammates before he quit playing in 2009.

The Croatians lost 3-1 to Brazil in the World Cup opener, but the game turned in the second half when referee Yuichi Nishimura awarded a contentious penalty to the hosts when the score was 1-1. Croatia rebounded by trouncing Cameroon 4-0 in a stylish display of speed, technical skill and German-style efficiency.

“When we combine our passionate approach with the ability to keep our cool, we’re a good team,” Kovac said.

Perisic said the coach’s sometimes autocratic approach actually helps the players.

“He is sometimes angry at us and he shouts,” said Perisic, who scored a goal and helped set up another against Cameroon. “That is all part of the game, and every coach should be like that.”

Croatia faces a crucial match against Mexico on Monday, needing to win to advance from Group A. A draw would be enough for Mexico, which held Brazil to a 0-0 draw after opening with a 1-0 win over Cameroon.

“It will be difficult,” Perisic said. “They are playing great football, they have good defense, but if we play like against Cameroon, we have a good chance to beat them.”

Kovac said Croatia needs to be patient to secure the win.

“We have to be ready from start to finish,” Kovac said. “We don’t need to win the game in the first five minutes.”