Saturday, June 21, 2008

Euro 2008: Turkey vs Croatia (Q/F)

Turkey snatch victory from Croatia

Jubilant players of the Turkey football team after beating Croatia in a thrilling quarterfinal securing a place in semis of the Euro 2008.

Final Score: 0-0 after full time; 1-1 after Extra time; 3-1 in favor of Turkey after Penalties.

Vienna: "Turkey never give up". They just don't know when they are beaten. Even with seconds left of extra time, and life draining away after Ivan Klasnic's header for Croatia, Fatih Terim's gutsy side kept going, equalising through Semih Senturk, dominating the shoot-out and reaching what will be a highly charged Semifinal with Germany.

This was car-crash football, incidents piling up in amazing fashion, horrifyingly so for Slaven Bilic, his shirt stained with sweat, his face awash with frustration as Croatia threw victory away. One minute Bilic was dancing on the pitch at Klasnic's goal, the next he was raging against the official for blowing 74 seconds after the allotted 120 minutes, giving Semih his chance.

Five minutes later, Bilic was kneeling on his field of broken dreams, consoling Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mladen Petric for missing in the shoot-out. Moments on, Bilic made his peace with the referee, but it will be some time before he finds closure on this remarkable turnaround in fortunes. Euro 2008's slogan is 'Expect Emotions' and Bilic went through the card last night.

If the heart went out to Bilic, a charismatic manager who made tactical mincemeat out of Steve McClaren in qualifying, then many paeans must be penned to Terim and his passion-players. Turkey's 35-year-old goalkeeper, Recber Rustu, an admirable understudy for the suspended Volkan Demirel, rolled back the years, making some good saves, including one from a Darijo Srna free-kick that defied belief, let alone Father Time.

Tuncay Sanli, Middlesbrough's occasional striker, had the game of his life in central midfield, tackling and creating in equal measure. Hamit Altintop, the Bayern Munich player who will relish the semi, also delivered for his country, showing the type of pride in the cause expected by the red ranks of Turkish support.

Turkey were shorn of seven regulars, five injured and two suspended, but their collective will could not be weakened. Their pride guaranteed that. Their vocal fans demanded no less. Terim's passion-players fought hard, particularly in midfield where they kept pressurising Bilic's men into ceding possession. To stop Croatia working the ball through Modric to Niko Kranjcar and then on to Ivica Olic or Klasnic, Terim flooded midfield and ordered massed ambush parties whenever Croatia had the ball. It was not pretty but it worked for 118 minutes.

For so long, flares had burned brightly on the terraces of the Ernst-Happel Stadium, but the fireworks on the pitch took ages to arrive. If good things come to those who wait, the patience of the massed viewing audience would have been sorely tested. But then it all came, like a hurricane blowing in out of nowhere, unbelievable sights splashed across the green canvas of a Viennese pitch.

With two minutes remaining, Rustu made a terrible mistake, his first and only error of the night, the Besiktas keeper suddenly going walkabout along his byeline. Modric reacted brilliantly, turning sharply, looking up and planting a cross on to the head of Klasnic.

Bilic raced on to the pitch in celebration, but his joy was short-lived. Terim's Turks kept going, and Semih equalised in spectacular fashion with seconds on the clock, latching on to Rustu's long clearance.

All of Rustu's experience came into play in the shoot-out. Modric and Rakitic were clearly unnerved by the keeper's commanding presence, and Rustu saved his best until last, pushing away Petric's penalty to break Croatian hearts.

And lift German ones. Michael Ballack and company will fancy their chances on Wednesday, particularly with Arda Turan, Emre Asik and Tuncay joining Demirel as suspended for Basle. With an estimated two million Turks living in Germany as Gastarbeiters, police from Mainz to Munich could be in for a busy night.

It could be a long one. As a stultifying game laboured into extra time, Fabio Capello watched the Croats intently, admiring the influence of Vedran Corluka from right-back, the creativity of Modric in midfield and the passing of Kranjcar, pulling the strings in Bilic's 4-4-1-1 formation.

Croatia could have won the game after 18 minutes, preventing so much heartache, but Bilic's triumphant run across his technical area was aborted after an extraordinary sequence of misses. This was the type of counter-attack that Croatia specialise in, suddenly springing forward with real pace.

Modric raced down the inside-left corridor, turning the ball low and hard across the area. Surely Olic would score? It seemed a straightforward tap-in but somehow the Hamburg striker lifted his shot against the bar.

Hope hung in the air for Croatia as Bilic's journey across his permitted patch resumed. Surely the unmarked Kranjcar would put away the rebound? Amazingly, the Portsmouth player headed over, leaving Modric pounding the turf in frustration and stopping Bilic in his jubilant tracks.

Tuncay screamed for a penalty when cutting in from the left, throwing himself forward as Josip Simunic stooped in front of him. Referee Roberto Rosetti was unimpressed, however.

Their resolve embodied by Tuncay, Turkey finished the half strongly. Breaking forward from his anchoring duties, Mehmet Topal's right foot came down like a hammer into the ball, sending it arrowing just wide of Stipe Pletikosa's left-hand upright.

Sensing the rising belief in their players, Turkey's fans danced up and down, sending tremors through one end of the Ernst-Happel Stadium. Terim caught the mood, prowling his technical area, sleeves-rolled, seemingly itching to join in.

Turkey continued to frustrate Croatia, Topal shielding his back-four well and Altintop working over-time alongside Tuncay in central midfield. Rustu then made a simple save from Kranjcar and a remarkable one from Srna. But it was nothing to his save from Petric that carried Turkey's gritty warriors into a showdown with Germany.

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