Mandzukic shifts into top gear with European treble
27 November 2014, 09:30
Madrid - Mario Mandzukic has taken a while to settle since joining Atletico Madrid from Bayern Munich in the close season but the Croatia forward shifted firmly into top gear with a Champions League hat-trick on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old's treble in a 4-0 Group A win at home to Olympiakos Piraeus helped fire Atletico, last season's beaten finalists, into the last 16 with a game to spare and he became the first player to score a hat-trick for the club in the Champions League era.
Mandzukic, whose participation was in doubt after he hurt his back in Saturday's La Liga victory at home to Malaga, took his goals tally in Europe's elite club competition to five in five appearances this term, the same number he has scored in Spain's top flight in 10 outings.
"We were thinking about whether or not to play him," Atletico coach Diego Simeone told a news conference.
"He was very good, he scored and that is very important for a forward," added the Argentine.
The thumping win at the Calderon put Atletico on 12 points from five matches and a win or a draw at Juventus in their final game on Dec. 9 will assure them of top spot.
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Olympiakos coach Michel assumed full responsibility for what he called "a very tough defeat" and "a bad night".
The Greek champions are still looking for their first win in Spain in 14 attempts, 12 of which have been defeats.
With six points, they still have a slim chance of making the knockout round but need to win at home to bottom side Malmo and hope Atletico beat Juve.
"I could not ask any more of my players," Michel, a former Real Madrid and Spain midfielder, told a news conference.
"I cannot say that two of the goals were gifts from my players because people might think I am shirking my responsibilities and that is not the case."