It will not surprise many to see Mario Mandžukic named the top performer after Croatia eased to an impressive 3-1 victory against the Republic of Ireland to begin their UEFA EURO 2012 campaign with a bang and go top of Group C.
Croatia dominated the top five in the Castrol Edge Index, with fellow goalscorer and target man Nikica Jelavic finishing second, and the incisive passing and dangerous long-range shooting of Ivan Rakitic putting him in third.
Mandžukic deservedly takes the plaudits, however, for his master class in opportunistic finishing and the significance of his two goals. His first, scored inside three minutes – the sixth fastest strike at a EURO – was vital, knocking the confidence out of their opponents and silencing the famous Green Army in the stands. It was a well-taken header too, requiring power and direction from distance – especially as he lost his footing moments before the ball arrived.
In terms of style, timing and importance, his second was almost a carbon copy. With Croatia just 2-1 up at the restart, Irish optimism remained high. Again it was dampened by Mandžukic. His flicked header found its way into the bottom corner after 49 minutes (via the post and Shay Given) to extinguish any hope of a comeback. Mandžukic had just two goal attempts all game – they were both knockout blows.
Castrol Edge Index: Croatia v Republic of Ireland
1. Mario Mandžukic (CRO) 9.21
2. Nikica Jelavic (CRO) 9.00
3. Ivan Rakitic (CRO) 8.84
4. Keith Andrews (IRL) 8.72
5. Stipe Pletikosa (CRO) 8.30
3 – This is the first time the Republic of Ireland have ever conceded three goals in a final tournament match.
6 – Croatia’s opener is the sixth-fastest goal in the history of the UEFA European Championship, and the first inside the opening three minutes since Michael Owen struck against Portugal at UEFA EURO 2004.
2 – Mario Mandžukic is only the second Croatia player to score a double at the EURO, after Davor Šuker.
100 – Mandžukic had just two goal attempts in the entire game but scored twice, finishing with a 100% shots-to-goals ratio.
4 – Croatia have now won four successive EURO group games, following victories against Austria, Germany and Poland in UEFA EURO 2008 Group B.