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Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic retires from national team

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Mario Mandzukic is retiring from international soccer after 11 years with Croatia’s national team, with his decision coming a month after he scored in the World Cup final.

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The 32-year-old Mandzukic made the announcement Tuesday on Instagram.

In an emotional farewell message, Mandzukic said the decision was made easier after Croatia reached the World Cup final in Russia.

“We lived our dream, made a historic result and felt the love of our fans,” Mandzukic said.

“There’s no ideal time for departure,” Mandzuklic added. “If we could, I believe we all would play for Croatia as long as we live because there is no bigger pride than that. However, I feel that for me that moment is now. That I gave my best and that I contributed to the biggest success in Croatian football.”

Mandzukic, who plays for Italian club Juventus, has played 89 games for Croatia, scoring 33 goals – trailing only Davor Suker’s national record of 45. He played at two World Cups and three European Championships.

Croatia lost to France 4-2 in the World Cup final on July 15, with Mandzukic scoring the second goal for his country.

In that match, Mandzukic also made history by becoming the first player to score an own-goal in a World Cup final after inadvertently deflecting a free kick from Antoine Griezmann into his own net in the 18th minute to give France a 1-0 lead.

Mandzukic also scored the decisive goal against England in the semifinals, finding the net in extra time to secure Croatia’s first ever appearance in a World Cup final.

Video: Lloris blunder gives Croatia life

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Hugo Lloris has gifted Croatia their second goal of the final, and perhaps Mario Mandzukic and Co. can find their way back into the match.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

The Juventus forward pulled the scoreline to 4-2 after Lloris failed to clear his line and passed the ball off Mandzukic and into the France goal in the 69th minute.

The goal comes after Mandzukic was charged with an own goal in the first half, which had given France their initial 1-0 lead.

Video: Mandzukic own goal has France out in front

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Croatia came out flying in Sunday’s World Cup final, but it’s France that has an early lead courtesy of a generous free kick given out.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Antoine Griezmann went over easy in the 17th minute about 30 yards from goal, and the Atletico Madrid man’s brilliant free kick caused a nightmare for the Croatian defense.

The curling ball in from Griezmann was headed into the Croatia goal by Mario Mandzukic, who gave Les Bleus the 1-0 lead.

Additionally, although Paul Pogba didn’t get a touch to the final ball, the Manchester United midfielder appeared to be in an offside position at the time of the cross being played into the box.

Top three battles in 2018 World Cup Final

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The World Cup Final is Sunday, and there are three areas which could tip the scales in favor of a Croatian upset or an expected French title.

[ MORE: PST’s World Cup roundtable ]

Kante and Pogba vs. Modric, Rakitic, Brozovic

Yes, Antoine Griezmann is a midfielder, but he’s a fourth forward if N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba are at their very best. Croatia’s midfield triangle has been responsible for much of its World Cup success, and will need to keep that up if it hopes to collect an upset.

Mandzukic renews acquaintances with La Liga CBs…

Two goals in the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, one the year before in the final, and an assist in that UCL run-up versus Barcelona.

So, yes, Real’s Raphael Varane and Barca’s Samuel Umtiti have tangled with him a time or two. And the big Croatian striker Mandzukic really seems to be rounding into form.

…And Giroud versus Lovren and Co.

Olivier Giroud has yet to score in the tournament, but sleeping on his industrious performance up top is a mistake. Dejan Lovren has branded himself “one of the best defenders in the world” based on this tournament and his Champions League run with Liverpool.

If France needs to whip crosses toward Giroud, we’d expect things could look a bit like the below highlight reel. Check around the 1:00 mark of this video:

Wow, these photos inside the Croatian match-winning goal celebration

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What do you need to do to get mere feet from pure glee?

Ask Yuri Cortez.

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The AFP photographer was the artist at the bottom of Croatia’s goal celebration, as Mario Mandzukic made history with a match-winning World Cup semifinal goal on Wednesday in Moscow.

Now we can see the pay-off that comes with hitting the deck for your work, as Cortez caught these A-plus images of Mandzukic as he coms to terms with furthering his status as a Croatian hero.

Amazing stuff, Mr. Cortez.

Cortez even got a shot of Mandzukic realizing there was a man to help up from the ground!