Euro 2008: Turkey Holds Their Nerves to Reach Semi-Finals

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Euro 2008: Turkey Holds Their Nerves to Reach Semi-Finals

Football is a most peculiar game.

For 118 minutes of this Euro 2008 quarter final, the football was dire. For two minutes it was breathtaking, scintillating.

Just like waiting for London buses to arrive, you wait an age for a goal to bring a tie like this to life and when you have all but given up hope, you are rescued as if by magic.

In the end, Rustu Recber's sprawling penalty save from Petric's spotkick, following embarrassing misses from Modric and Rakitic meant a 3-1 win on penalties for Turkey.

If you had turned on the television to witness these events, you might have kicked yourself for having missed the rest of the game— in fact you made an inspired choice.

While Croatia dominated for long periods of the game and Turkey barely mustered a decent effort on goal in the entire match, it is goals, which ultimately win football matches and Croatia’s coach Slaven Bilic will be kicking himself for delaying substituting the highly wasteful Olic for the eventual goalscorer Ivan Klasnic.

In doing so, he let Turkey off the hook and was made to pay the highest price in the cruelest fashion.

Earlier in the evening, Bilic had decided to keep faith with the same eleven players, which had surprisingly defeated Germany.

This meant a 4-5-1 formation, with Krancjar offering support to lone striker Olic.

Turkey were forced into four changes through suspension and injuries to some of their key players and set out from the start in a 4-3-3 formation with Kazim, Nihat and Sanli forming an attacking trio that Terim hoped would prove the decisive factor.

Zan and Balta replaced Gungor and Cetin at the heart of the defense and there also starts for Sabri at right back and for veteran former Barcelona keeper Rustu, who won his 117th international cap.

On a sweltering evening in Vienna, 52,000 fans packed into the Happel Stadium hoping to witness the dynamic and free-flowing encounter that many, myself included, had envisaged.

They were to be hugely disappointed as the Turkey frontline were starved of any service and the impressive Luka Modric aside, Croatia were bereft of ideas.

Croatia had started the game off on the front foot and enjoyed the lion's share of the possession, but despite constantly getting in behind the Turkish fullbacks, in particular the careless Sabri, their final ball was poor and they had little to show for their domination.

Balta blocked an Srna effort early on after a mix up between Rustu and Sabri while at the other end Hamit smashed a low shot wide of Pletikosa's near post.

Olic missed the first by far and away easiest of the four decent chances he had all night in the 19th minute when he inexplicably diverted Modric's excellent cross onto the bar from three yards out after the Tottenham-bound dynamo had made an excellent break from deep.

Krancjar headed the rebound over.

Despite raucous support from a largely Croatian crowd, the checkered shirts could not find a way past an alarmingly mediocre Turkish side.

Middlesbrough's Sanli was enduring a lonely night upfront for Turkey and it was only Hamit who provided any real threat.

That didn't stop Mehmet Topal nearly breaking the deadlock with what would surely have been the goal of the tournament as he picked up a loose ball from 35 yards out and thundered a drive inches wide of the Croatian goal.

The interval came and went and the fans, which provided their own entertainment for much of the night, were desperately hoping for better things to come. 

Six minutes into the second half, Rustu nearly gifted Croatia the lead when he strayed out of goal but Rakitic could not find the net with a header from a prohibitive angle.

As the game wore on, even the substitutes that both managers introduced failed to have any impact on a match that seemed destined to go the whole way.

Luka Modric was doing his best to prove the cynics wrong with a mixture of expertly timed runs from deep, cute passing and acute awareness.

At 57 minutes, he wriggled free down the left and played in Krancjar, who shot straight at the keeper. He then set up Olic for an easy chance but the front man had needlessly erred offside.

Slaven Bilic brought on Mladen Petric for Niko Krancjar thus changing to a 4-4-2 formation but his players looked increasingly leggy despite having been rested for the match against Poland. This lethargy was epitomized by two woeful successive Darijo Srna corners which failed to beat the first line of defense.

Turkey keeper, Rustu Recber, who was erratic all night— brilliant and frightfully bad in equal measure— kept his side in the match when he pushed Srna's powerful free kick wide with 12 minutes remaining.

With the clock ticking down, Olic missed two good chances to put his side through when Modric and finally when the ball fell to him in the box in the 93rd minute set him up well.

Extra time was remarkably uneventful, with the exception of a gut-busting run by the tireless Sanli who almost sneaked in a shot at the near post.

The same player then cracked an effort agonizingly wide just before the interval.

With just two minutes remaining, Modric created something out of nothing when he rescued a ball from the right touchline, turned and found the head of Klasnic with a floated cross with his left foot with Rustu flapping at thin air not for the first time. 

Just when Croatia thought they had won the match, Turkey remarkably produced another crucial and breathtaking last minute goal as substitute Semih Senturk hit a beautiful half-volley into the roof of the net from Rustu's hopeful punt down-field.

Bilic tried to pick his players up but it was in vain.

Visibly shocked, Modric pushed a poor penalty wide of Rustu's goal and Rakitic produced a similarly inept effort for Croatia's 3rd penalty as Turkey surged into an almost unassailable 3-1 lead.

Rustu then turned from villain to hero to push Petric's effort wide and spark jubilation in the Turkish camp. 

This marked the end of the road for Croatia, whose performances have smacked of inconsistency.

Turkey, facing a mounting list of injuries and suspensions, will surely exit at the next round when they face a German team who will not show the same level of generosity when push comes to shove.

Friday 20 June 2008, Vienna

Croatia 1 (0) - 1 (0) Turkey aet (Turkey win 3-1 on penalties)

Croatia (4-4-1-1):

Pletikosa 6; Corluka 6, Simunic 8, R Kovac 6, Pranjic 7; Srna 6, N Kovac 6, Modric 8, Rakitic 6; Krancjar 6 (64 - Petric 5) ; Olic 5 (97 - Klasnic 7)

Scorer: Klasnic 119

Turkey (4-3-3): 

Rustu 7; Sabri 5, Zan 5, Balta 6, Asik 6; Topal 5(76 - Senturk 7), Altintop 7, Turan 6; Kazim 4 (61 -Boral 6), Nihat 6 (117 - Karadeniz 4), Sanli 7    

Scorer: Senturk 120

Yellow cards: Asik, Sanli, Turan, Boral

Man of the match: Luka Modric

Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Italy)

Attendance: 52,000

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