Mario Mandzukic is a blessing from the heavens.
He is a blessing because he has a nickname of Mr. No Good and freaking lives by it every waking second of each and every day.
He is a blessing because he is not a Fake Tough Guy, taking the he’s-an-asshole-but-he’s-our-asshole kind of on-field mindset to the core just like Stephan Lichtsteiner did during his seven years with Juventus.
He is a blessing because he is the walking definition of grinta, something that has basically endured himself to the Juve tifosi from the first time he played in bianconero onward.
He is a blessing because when you see him crack a smile — and it’s a rare, rare occurrence — you know it’s truly something important that has just gone down.
Mario Mandzukic cracked a smile this past Wednesday in Croatia’s World Cup semifinal win over England. It happened more than once, and for obvious reasons. It was Mandzukic’s goal, a 109th-minute thing of snipper striker beauty, that put Croatia up 2-1 over everybody’s latest darling England and allowed Croatia to advance to the World Cup final for the first time ever.
And to think, less than three minutes of game time earlier, Mandzukic was getting his right knee crushed by an on-rushing Jordan Pickford coming in hot.
The goal is what will be one of the most memorable moments for a Croatia team that had gone 120 minutes of game time in all three of its knockout round fixtures leading up to the World Cup final.
But go back and watch the goal a time or two again. There’s so much that comes with it.
You have Pickford talking mess as Mandzukic writhed in pain on the ground following the two making contact with one another in the box. On the goal itself, you obviously needed the initial mistake by England’s defense to not clear the ball completely. And you needed Ivan Perisic to perfectly head the ball into a spot that allowed Mandzukic to run onto it.
What is the beauty of the whole thing is what Mandzukic did off the ball.
As the ball goes into the air after the failed clearance, Mandzukic basically makes it seem like he’s given up on the play. His run stops, his head goes down as he walks back toward the top of the box and England’s deepest two defenders (John Stones and Harry McGuire) lose start casually strolling forward like there’s no worry.
Then Perisic makes contact with the ball, Mandzukic runs in behind Stones and it’s a game-winning goal that ends in Mario accidentally tackling a photographer. Mandzukic lulled the two defenders to sleep, only to snap back into action and leave Stones a step too late to even try and slow him down.
And with it comes another chapter of a big game player known as Mario Mandzukic.
But seeing Mandzukic produce the goods in a big game is nothing new to us. Nah, not at all. He’s scored one of the best goals you will ever see in a Champions League final. He’s scored some of Juventus’ most important goals during his three seasons with the seven-time defending Italian champions.
Even Croatia didn’t beat France on Sunday or that it was an own goal off the top of Mandzukic’s head that meant Croatia fell behind 1-0 within the first 20 minutes, it shouldn’t take away from the tournament that he just had. He was a protagonist, the driving force alongside Croatia’s fantastic midfield, that allowed his country to achieve something they had never done before.
Mandzukic finished the World Cup with three goals (tied with Ivan Perisic for the team lead), an assist and was Croatia’s highest-rated outfield player, according to WhoScored.
So, to say Mr. No Good was actually quite good at the World Cup would pretty much be on the money. Let’s just make sure that Blaise Matuidi doesn’t remind him of what happened in Sunday’s final when the two Juve teammates return to training in a few weeks, shall we?