By Zoran Milosavljevic
ZAGREB, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic remains a strong favourite to be included in the Balkan nation's World Cup squad despite facing a ban for his red card during the 2-0 playoff win over Iceland.
Mandzukic opened the scoring in the 27th minute of Tuesday's second leg but was shown a straight red card for a wild challenge on Johann Gudmundsson shortly before halftime.
"I can't imagine he will be suspended for more than two games and what is more, we hope the ruling will be that sitting out the lion's share of last night's match is ample punishment," coach Niko Kovac told a news conference on Wednesday.
"Either way, Mandzukic will in all likelihood be part of the Brazil expedition. Of course no one can take for granted a slot in the 23-man squad but a ban will not affect my selection judgment," he said.
Mandzukic was Croatia's top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals and a prolonged absence from the first XI would be a serious blow to their hopes of reaching the knockout stage of next year's 32-nation tournament in Brazil.
Following a goalless first leg in Rejkyavik, Croatia sealed their World Cup berth after Mandzukic struck with a predator's finish and captain Darijo Srna added the second goal shortly after the break.
"Mandzukic is obviously a very important player for us but we have a system in which other options can fit in if he is unavailable," said Kovac.
"We will keep playing attacking football based on keeping possession and work hard to improve in every department." (Editing by Alison Wildey)