His coach Zlatko Dalic labels him as the soul of the Croatian team and it’s hard not to see why. Anybody who has seen the way Mario Mandzukic’s career has developed will tell you that this is a man who works his socks off for any team that he plays for.
Against England despite being thought to look fatigued, he rose to occasion to thump in a goal in extra time to seal Croatia’s passage into the finals, and create history for his small nation. Although Luka Modric is the star of the Vatreni, Mandzukic is the engine.
As an attacker he leads the line by example. He presses defenders incessantly, harries them and that gets the team going. The Juventus player is always acting as the first form of defence. Many pundits when commenting on Croatia tend to focus on their famous midfield often undervaluing the former Bayern Munich player’s role.
When Jesse Lingard sliced his clearance on the edge of the box, only for Ivan Perisic to head it back into the penalty box, Mandzukic’s predatory instincts was clear to see. It was a hopeful header by Perisic that caught the England rear-guard out but it was Mandzukic’s decision to gamble on the end of it, which proved to be decisive.
The 32-year-old is a dream player for any manager, his warrior-like mentality combined with his technical abilities makes him an asset. At times however he is let down by his temper and against France who loves to frustrate their opponents with cynicism, he must be careful.
For a selfless player such as Mandzukic, winning the World Cup would be the icing on the cake especially when one considers the career he has had. One of the true gems of this Croatian squad, he alongside Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic all have the chance to create history.
There is no reason why Croatia can’t go all the way. Dalic will most definitely be relying on Mandzukic to score again like he did against England. But even if he doesn’t score, there is no doubt his presence will galvanize the team. This is a man who does not give up easily and will put his body on the line for the team. That is the sort of player Mandzukic has become synonymous for and more importantly that is what the world has become accustomed to, when watching Croatia play.