Mario Mandzukic: Croatia Striker to Be Euro 2012's Biggest Beneficiary

Yoosof FarahSenior Writer IIIJune 11, 2012

POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Mario Mandzukic of Croatia celebrates scoring their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C between Ireland and Croatia at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Poznan, Poland.  (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Robert Lewandowski, Christian Eriksen, Thiago Alcantara, Yann M'Vila, Alan Dzagoev, Andre Schurrle, Mario Goetze, Andriy Yarmolenko and Kevin Strootman are all considered among the biggest and best upcoming players to watch at Euro 2012.

With a youth on their side and contracts with fashionable football institutions like FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow, these are the players set to benefit the most from this summer's football fest in Poland and Ukraine.

And the biggest beneficiaries from Euro 2012 they most probably will be—barring a certain striker from Croatia.

Mario Mandzukic, who lit up his nation's hopes of Group C glory with a brace of bullet headers to down the dismal Republic of Ireland, could well be the player to see his stock rise the most after the tournament.

A somewhat under-the-radar striker, 26-year-old Mandzukic came into Euro 2012 with very low media interest in him, and hardly any transfer speculation—the admiring glances Tottenham Hotspur gave him in January being the height of it.

An offer from Spurs for the VfL Wolfsburg target-man never materialised, while no other club was seriously linked with a bid. Most sides in Europe presumably disagreed with an £8.8 million valuation for a forward just two years from hitting his theoretical peak, and who has a career record of just one goal in every six Bundesliga matches.

However, on the back of his performances this season—which are clearly giving the striker confidence at Euro 2012—it's hard to see why more teams haven't paid attention to the Croatia hitman.

Mandzukic scored 12 goals and made 10 assists from 32 league games in 2011-12, directly contributing a goal to his team at a rate of over two goals every three matches.

A huge aerial threat, seven of the forward's 12 goals were headers, while he won more aerial duels than any other player in the Bundesliga barring Stefan Kiessling.

Mandzukic was also one of the best knock-down strikers in the Bundesliga, creating 51 goalscoring chances for teammates in total this season with his headed passes.

On the back of a season like that, where statistically he's been on a par with some of the best forwards in Europe, the general lack of interest in the player is hard to understand.

But it's also something that could benefit Mandzukic and his team greatly should he continue to excel this summer—making his €10 million valuation just the starting point for interested parties, of which there could be many.

After all, the striker was deservedly the man of the match in his nation's 3-1 win against Ireland.

The model of efficiency, he had just two shots—both pinpoint headers, both goals. His overall play was excellent, with his movement in the penalty area for his two goals timed to perfection, and executed in textbook style.

The Irish defence couldn't live with him, and no matter how well-versed Giovanni Trapattoni had his players on Mandzukic before the game, in the 90 minutes that followed they simply had no answers.

Sterner tests will follow against Spain and Italy, but as the world saw in Poznan, this is a player who is now in full flow for both club and country.

Mandzukic's international career got off to a slow start with just two goals in his first 24 caps, but having scored five goals for Croatia in his last six games, the Wolfsburg star—like Ashley Young for England—is relishing being his nation's main man in attack.

While it's unlikely he'll notch braces in his next two games, you wouldn't bet against the talented forward finding the net in any game he now plays for his country.

With Wolfsburg apparently set to listen to offers for Mandzukic this summer, and given his form this season, a bidding war is poised to take place. Mandzukic may not yet be valued in the same bracket as the aforementioned players in the opening paragraph of this article. But with the likely addition of a few more goals to his tournament tally to combine with his stellar Bundesliga season, he could well switch clubs for a similar valuation.

After two goals in his first game and with clear potential for more to follow, surprise star striker Mario Mandzukic could well become Euro 2012's biggest beneficiary.