by Ante Vulić
After just two matches in the post-Mario Mandžukić era, it is obvious Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić has some headaches in the striking department.
When Mandžukić made the phone call to Dalić after the World Cup, where he helped guide Croatia to the final with an extra-time winner against England in the semi-final, to tell him he was retiring from international football, everyone close to the set up knew what a huge void the Juventus striker would leave.
Dalic not only lost the second highest goalscorer in Croatia’s history, but he lost a player with experience, presence and mongrel, the latter was important in rallying his teammates through some tough moments on the pitch.
There is no question replacing a man who has scored 33 goals for his country, countless for his clubs like Bayern Munich, Atletico, and Juventus, and goals in the final of the World Cup and Champions League is never easy which Dalić has now found out first hand.
With limited world-class classical strikers at his disposal now after Nikola Kalinić’s exit, Dalić has had to resort to calling up Ivan Santini from Anderlecht in the Belgium league, Marko Livaja who plays for AEK Athens in the Greek league and journeyman Duje Čop.
Dalić had a chance to have a look at all three in the friendly against Portugal and UEFA Nations League clash with Spain in September.
Neither grabbed their chance by the scruff of the neck or gave Dalić the confidence that perhaps life will not be so bad without ‘Super Mario’.
Dalić himself has said that he will not write off players so quickly and that the next six months will be used to try different options out so he is ready to go when EURO 2020 qualifiers start next March.
One of those options in the striker role could be Eintracht Frankfurt attacker Ante Rebić. Although Rebić had an outstanding World Cup wide on the left, there is a strong case that he could be shifted in the middle to fill Mandžukić’s old role.
There are some strong arguments why the 25-year-old maybe Dalić’s best bet. Croatia likes to play with a lone striker who has a high work rate.
Ivica Olić, and later Mandžukić, played important roles in defence and pressing the opposition in their own half. This was evidently missing against Portugal and Spain. Rebić is a beast of a player who has speed and presence and is not shy of getting stuck into a tackle.
Rebić’s goal against Argentina was evidence of that as he pressured keeper Caballero and capitalised on the error, as Mandžukić done to score against France in the World Cup final.
Rebić is solid in the air, can hold the ball up with his strength, and can get past his defender well. He can also finish.
Rebić has scored two goals in his first two matches back for Eintracht since the World Cup. For his club, he plays more as a second striker, often drifting into the middle, unlike for Croatia where he is a classical winger, so the change in position would not be a huge one.
Should Dalić want to make Rebić his lone striker then he has options with Marko Pjaca and Andrej Kramarić to use out wide.
Dalić himself has hinted that Rebić could be tried out in the striker role as he looks for the right combination to qualify for EURO 2020. Croatia next faces England in Rijeka in the UEFA Nations League on 12 October before meeting Jordan three days later.