- Mario Mandzukic helped Croatia to their best World Cup start for 20 years
- The striker was pivotal in the 2-0 win over Nigeria on Saturday
- Mandzukic says Croatia are “very motivated” for Russia 2018
By Vjekoslav Paun with Croatia
Croatia edged Nigeria on Saturday to go top of Group D at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, one of the toughest and most unpredictable pools in the tournament. Croatia finally won an opening game for the first time in 20 years and one of the players who caused the most problems for the Super Eagles defence was Mario Mandzukic.
Despite their possession advantage Croatia struggled to penetrate the Nigerian defence, but after the half-hour mark a strong diving header from Mandzukic found its way into the net off a defender’s foot. The second goal came from the penalty spot after William Troost-Ekong held Mandzukic back in the penalty area as a corner swung in.
"Of course I want to do something with Croatia team,” Mandzukic told FIFA after the match. “We are all very motivated. For me the motivation is even bigger, because I want to do something great in Russia. I have won quite a lot trophies with my clubs in the past and I want a good result with Croatia.”
Super Mario, as he is known in the Croatian media, is not a classical battering ram of a striker. Rather, he uses his seemingly endless stamina to drive defenders back or pull them wide, creating space for others to exploit.
"The first goal is to reach the knockout stage,” said Mandzukic. “I think we are capable of it, that we have a good team. There is a lot of talk about France 98. We'll see if we can do something like that.
"Other players can complain about the long season, but it will not be a plus or minus, because we are all in the same situation."
Mandzukic was quick to hail the impact that coach Zlatko Dalic has had on the team.
"The coach took us to the World Cup, and we have seen through all these games that he is very focused,” he said. “With him we managed to win our play-off games, so we are all happy that Zlatko is a part of this team.
“The coach has great communication with all the players, and has he really built the relationship with all of us in the last few months."