Croatian World Cup hero Mandzukic retires from football

AFP , Saturday 4 Sep 2021

Semi-final flourish: Mario Mandzukic beats England's Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire to put Croatia into the World Cup final. (AFP)

Iconic Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, who scored the winning goal against England in the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018, has retired from the game, three years after playing his last international.

The 35-year-old announced his decision in a post on Instagram, which included a photo of a pair of boots, on Friday night.

"While you put on these boots for the first time, you can't even imagine what you will get to experience in football," he wrote in a message in English addressed to his young self, "Dear little Mario", and signed "Your big Mario".

"You'll recognize the moment to retire, to put these boots in a cabinet and you'll have no regrets."

Mandzukic appeared 89 times for Croatia scoring 33 goals, he also played Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Juventus and appeared 11 times this year for AC Milan. Plagued by injury he was used mostly as a substitute and did not score a goal.

He won the Croatian league three times with Dinamo Zagreb, the Bundesliga, twice, and the Champions League at Bayern, and Serie A four times at Juventus.

"You will score goals on the biggest stages and win the biggest trophies in the jerseys of the biggest clubs," he wrote.

"In the jersey of greatest pride, the Croatian national team, you will write some of the most important moments of Croatian sport."

Juventus quickly responded.

"Glad to have shared part of your story together," the club posted on Instagram.

Croatian sports stars Miralem Pjanic, tennis player Marin Cilic and NBA small forward Bojan Bogdanovic all joined the on-line chorus of praise as did Blaise Matuidi, an opponent in the 2018 World Cup final and team-mate at Juventus.

"Thank you mister no good!!" wrote another French former Juventus team-mate Patrice Evra "Such a warrior."

Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic thanked Mandzukic in a statement calling him "a fighter on whom the team could always rely, a player for big games and the toughest challenges".

Born in Slavonski Brod, Mandzukic began his career in 2004 at home town club Marsonia. He signed his first major contract with Dinamo Zagreb in 2007.

He then played for Wolfsburg (2010-2012), Bayern Munich (2012-2014), Atletico Madrid (2014-2015) and Juventus (2015-2019).

He ended his post by recalling his dramatic World Cup semi-final winner.

"P.S. If you happen to play vs England in the World Cup, just be ready around 109th minute," he wrote, adding a smiley.

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