Completesportsnigeria.com’s ADEBOYE AMOSU profiles Croatia’s hitman Mario Mandzukic as we continue to run the rule over the Super Eagles’ Russia 2018 World Cup group opponents and their key players…
A versatile forward who can also play as a winger, Mario Mandzukic is one of the most fearsome hitmen in the game today. With 29 goals, he is tied with Eduardo da Silva as Croatia’s second most prolific scorer of all time, behind the great Davor Suker.
Mandzukic’s sojourn to stardom started at his hometown club Marsonia from where he moved from NK Zagreb and later Dinamo Zagreb.
He came into limelight after emerging top scorer in the Croatian League in the 2008/2009 season which earned him a move to German Bundesliga side VFL Wolfsburg.
The forward further proved his class at UEFA Euro 2012, where he was joint-top scorer with three goals and earned a move to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich after the competition.
In his first season with Bayern Munich, he won the treble; the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, and the Champions League, while also becoming the first Croat to score in a Champions League final.
Currently in the books of Italian giants Juventus, Mandzukic previously had a stint with Spanish La Liga club Atletico Madrid.
He scored his second goal in a Champions League final, an overhead kick arcing past the keeper that earned him UEFA Goal of the Season award, in Juventus defeat to Real Madri last season.
At international level, Mandžukić was given his debut for Croatia in November 2007 under then manager Slaven Bilić.
He has since participated in three major tournaments Euro 2012, the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, making more than 70 international appearances.
He was named Croatian Footballer of the Year in 2012 and 2013.
BEST POSITION: Mandzukic plays mainly as a striker but can also slot in as a winger.
STRENGTHS: He is a quality striker who is strong on the ball, good in the air and also supports the defence as well. He is one of the most versatile and hardest working players in Europe as demonstrated by his performances for Juventus.
WEAKNESS: He is often criticised for his poor technical ability as a player even though he makes up for that with his high work rate.
STYLE OF PLAY: He is noted for his physical strength, versatility, mobility and fitness, as well as his ability in the air.
DID YOU KNOW?
-2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be Croatia’s fifth appearance at the mundial.
-Croatia have lost the first game in their last three World Cups, the two most recent both against Brazil (2006 and 2014). They are playing Nigeria in their first game at Russia 2018.
-There have been five red cards in Croatia’s last four World Cup games (three for Croatia, two for their opposition).
-Croatia legend Davor Suker won the Golden Shoe as the top scorer at the France 98 World Cup as well as the Silver Ball Award as the second most outstanding player of the tournament behind Ronaldo Nazario Luiz de Lima of Brazil.
-Croatia, formerly a part of the old Yugoslavia, gained admission to FIFA in June 1993, meaning they were too late to compete for a place at the finals in the United States in 1994. However, they qualified for a finals at the first time of asking at France 98 and have reached all but one of the five summer tournaments since.
Do you think the Super Eagles defence marshalled by Leon Balogun will be able to cope with the power and aerial ability of Mario Mandzukic when they face the Croatians in their first game at the 2018 World Cup?