Turkey vs. Croatia: 5 Things We Learned from Their Euro 2012 Playoff Game
In yesterday's Euro 2012 first-leg playoff qualifier, Croatia dismantled a poor Turkey side three goals to nil at Turkey's Türk Telekom Arena, to take a huge advantage into the second leg of the playoff.
The result virtually guarantees Croatia passage to Euro 2012, while it leaves Turkey with the enormous task of having to score at least three goals against Croatia away from home, and possibly having to score more if Croatia manage to score a goal or two against them.
Going into this match, many experts and analysts expected a close match that would likely end in a draw between the teams. How did Croatia manage to prove everyone terribly wrong? Let's find out.
You Need Strikers to Win Games
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It seems like a very common-sense concept, right? If your midfield is going to create goal-scoring opportunities, you need strikers to put them into the back of the net.
It seems this logic escaped Guus Hiddink, who definitely hurt his reputation of being a managerial genius by looking like an idiot with the team he put out against Croatia.
Despite having home-field advantage and knowing that it was crucial that Turkey win and not simply draw in this first leg of the two teams' Euro 2012 playoff, Hiddink fielded a Turkey team with no real striker.
Burak Yilmaz was included as a quasi-striker (Yilmaz is more of a wing-forward than an actual forward), but Yilmaz was far too isolated up front by himself, and quickly drifted out of the game as he was completely neutralized by Croatia's defense.
This effectively eliminated any offensive threat that Turkey could've posed, and resulted in Turkey only taking one real shot all game, which was off target.
Meanwhile, both Croatia strikers, Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic, managed to score and regularly terrorized Turkey's defense.
Turkey doesn't have the best supply of strikers, but they definitely could've put out another decent striker alongside Burak Yilmaz.
Why did Guus Hiddink wait until the 81st minute to send on Umut Bulut? Why wasn't Mevlut Erding of PSG, arguably Turkey's best pure striker, called up for the playoff games?
These are questions Hiddink will definitely be asked when the game is analyzed by Turkish journalists and football experts.
Defense Also Wins Games
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Whether it was because Hiddink got his tactics all wrong or because there was a legitimate gulf in quality between the two sides, Croatia's defense looked great, while Turkey's was absolutely shambolic.
For Croatia, Josip Simunic was easily the man of the match. Though he did not contribute to the goal-scoring, he made countless clearances throughout the game, so much so that Burak Yilmaz eventually stopped even trying to pose a threat to Croatia's defense.
Vedran Corluka, Domagoj Vida and Gordon Schildenfeld also all did their part to make sure Croatia's defense was solid and difficult to penetrate.
Turkey, on the other hand, were torn apart on defense. Gökhan Gönül was a disaster in his 45 minutes on the pitch, but Egemen Korkmaz, Hakan Balta and Sabri Sarioglu were not much better.
Turkey let in only three goals, but the scoreline could possibly have been double that figure had Croatia been more clinical with their opportunities.
Referees, Take Note: This Is How Good Officiating Looks
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What? Since when do we compliment good officiating in the world of football journalism?
In yesterday's qualifier between Turkey and Croatia, Felix Brych showed how officiating should really be done.
In a rough match filled with tackles, high stakes and high tensions, Brych was able to keep things from boiling over, and was able to avoid brandishing either side with a red card and knocking either side down to 10 men.
Brych made a number of appropriate no calls, and resisted the urge to issue multiple yellow cards despite the playacting of several players on both teams.
In the end, Brych issued only seven yellow cards; four for Turkey and three for Croatia.
Considering how aggressive both sides were towards each other, Brych ought to pat himself on the back for a job well done, and deserves recognition for being an example to all other referees on how to get the job done right.
Turkey Is Sorely Missing Nuri Sahin's Creativity
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Despite making his debut for Real Madrid last weekend, Nuri Sahin was not called up by Turkey for their Euro 2012 qualification playoff with Croatia.
This was due to Turkey's decision to heed the advice of Jose Mourinho and leave Nuri Sahin in Madrid to slowly recover from the major knee injury which kept him out of action for many months and delayed his debut for Real Madrid to November.
However, given Turkey's abysmal performance against Croatia yesterday, it is clear that the Turks are greatly missing the presence of their star midfielder, and that maybe their decision was not so wise.
Against Croatia, only Emre showed any semi-consistent creativity, and was often under extra pressure due to the inability of his midfield partner, Selcuk Inan, to really create opportunities for Turkey to attack.
If Nuri Sahin was available to play, he could've relieved a great deal of pressure off of Emre, and probably worked with his fellow Turkish central midfielder to create more goalscoring opportunities for the team.
Presently, neither Selcuk Inan nor Mehmet Topal look capable of filling the creativity void left by Nuri Sahin, and Hiddink will have to work some serious magic to make up for the creativity gap created by the absence of the 22-year old.
Vedran Corluka Is a Solid Full-Back
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As a Tottenham fan, I'm used to hearing fellow fans bash Vedran Corluka for being too slow or unrefined to be Spurs' starting full-back.
However, on the back of his performance against Turkey, it's clear that the big Croatian is much better than most people think.
Against Turkey, Corluka performed his defensive and offensive duties capably. He was quick to close down and pressure Arda Turan whenever he received the ball, and killed off the game with a header in the second half to put Croatia 3-0 up and in cruise control.
I'm not saying that I would rather take Corluka over Kyle Walker at Tottenham, but the idea that Corluka is not a capable backup for Walker is ridiculous—the Croatian is more than capable of being a solid backup for Walker, and definitely has the ability to be a game-changer from time to time.