Friday, June 20, 2008

Turkish delight after last minute madness

Croatia 1:1 Turkey aet; 0:0 after 90mins, Turkey win 3-1 on penalties

Klasnic 119', Senturk 120'

A disappointing contest in Vienna which never got going over 118 minutes, implausibly caught fire in the last two minutes of extra-time, and ended in a dramatic finale of shifting fortunes.

First Croatia and then Turkey revelled in 60 seconds of ecstasy after scoring improbable goals, before three missed penalties sent the Turks through to a semi-final date with Germany.

After almost two hours of solid but increasingly tiresome play which rarely looked like producing a result, Ivan Klasnic' 119th minute header surely looked to have carried Croatia through.

But as the soccer fates wound their thread yet tighter, Turkey's Semih Senturk rifled into the top corner in the 122nd minute to silence Croatia's huge travelling support.

When it came to penalties, Croatia showed themselves the less adept, missing three out of four to send the last-gasp specialist Turks through instead.

The day's Viennese heat had cooled inside the Prater by kick-off, but the temperature was always goingto be stoked by the passionate Turkish fans and their Croatian counterparts, who outnumbered them substantially inside the bowl.

After a couple of long-range shots at either end, the first moment of real danger arrived in the sixth minute when Ivan Rakitic infiltrated the box on the left and pulled it back into the six yard box, but the onrushing Darijo Srna failed to connect.

Turkey had enjoyed the majority of the ball in the opening quarter of an hour, showing little respect for their opponents, but in the 18th the Croats gave a reminder of just how dangerous they are on the counter.

Dinamo Zagreb star Luka Modric accelerated between three defenders to the endline and whipped the ball back across goal.

Striker Ivica Olic slid in but only found the crossbar with the goal gaping before him; Niko Kranjcar's rebound header went soaring over.

Halfway through the first period, Croatia had slipped throught the gears and had now got the Turks on the backfoot. The left wing was their favourite route to goal, from where Daniel Pranjic and Ivan Rakitic were sending over a succession of dangerous crosses.

Middlesbrough forward Tuncay Sanli became the first of three Turks starting on a yellow card to disqualify themselves from the semi-final, picking up another booking in the 27th minute. After stroking the ball around a while in front of the Croatian rearguard, Turkey almost registered the strike of the tournament seven minutes before the break.

Midfield anchor Mehmet Topal let rip from a good 35 yards and his ambitious effort whistled only inches past Stipe Pleitkosa's upright. As the seconds ticked down towards the interval, it seemed Croatia had certainly carved out the better chances, but Turkey had proved their mettle too, giving the impression of a drawn-out battle in the pipeline.

In the 49th minute, Arda saw yellow and counted himself out of the semi-final, while a minute later Olic beat Turkish goalkeeper Recber Rustu to the ball but from two yards wide of the post, his header bounced away from the open net. Then in the 57th Croatia threatened again when Modric threaded Niko Kranjcar through but the Portsmouth man's toe-poke did not fool Rustu.

A minute short of the hour with the play largely stagnant, a bunch of Croatian ultras let off a flare and a pair of smoke bombs, leaving a fine mist across the arena. Swiss TV had been criticised for not showing similar incidents in previous games, so it will be interesting if this was picked up or not.

Incredibly to English eyes, no stewards intervened and there are no police to be seen anyway inside the stadium. Slaven Bilic exchanged Krancjar for Mladen Petric in the 64th in the hope adding some zest to his team's attack. While looking solid at the back, Croatia were failing to penetrate up front.

Modric was certainly their best hope of a breakthrough, slaloming past four or five Turks in the 69th minute, but his final ball confused the lurking Olic. Olic and Rakitic played a neat one-two a moment later before Rakitic skied his finish, leaving Bilic on the touchline a picture of self-torture. With a quarter of an hour to play, it was certainly not a patch on last night's Germany v Portugal clash, but the possibility of a killer goal in the closing minutes was still there.

In the 83rd, a raiding Petric was brought down 20 yards out, offering Croatia a possible avenue from a set piece. Darijo Srna's blasted free kick swung around the Turkish wall and drew a spectacular tip away by Rustu. Then, a minute from time, Modric, the creative Croat, broke down the right and sent a cross into the near post for Olic, but Rustu was well placed to save as the striker slid in.

Srna dirtied the Turkish custodian's gloves once more with a long-range free kick, but when Petric swung his shot high into the stands in the final minute of added-on time, there was to be no winner. Four minutes into the first period, Tuncay forced an otherwise rarely-employed Pletikosa to punch away his near-post cross cum shot.

The two sets of fans manfully kept the atmosphere stoked, despite the challenging spectacle before them. Bilic finally relieved Olic's fruitless toiling up front by swapping him for the fresh legs of Ivan Klasnic seven minutes after the restart.

Four minutes later Semih tried his luck from 20 yards but scooped his shot over the bar. Three minutes before the half came a moment of real danger.

From a similar distance, Arda squared the ball for Tuncay to ping a shot just wide of the diving Pletikosa and his post. At the start of the second period, the stadium was in full voice, releasing their frustration,along with a few flares, at the frustrating game.

Modric almost weaved his way through in the 110th after being released by Srna, but Rustu stole the ball from his feet as he stumbled.

With four minutes to go, Turkey won a free kick deep on the right but Nihat's orbital conclusion saw Fatih Terim so angry he subbed his No.8 for Gokdeniz Karadeniz seconds later.

With a minute to go Srna streamed down the right more in hope than anything but Modric sprintedonto his centre ahead of Rustu, spun and crossed back for Klasnic to head into the netand send the Croats into ecstasy.

As if to compensate for two hours of near-tedium for the neutrals, Semih then equalised with the clock showing 121 minutes 14 seconds, spearing the ball into the top corner from just inside the box after Rustu's long punt had deflected into his path.

An extraordinary exciting end to a rather negative 120 minutes, with penalties to come.
Modric stroked the first penalty just wide of the post, handing Turkey the advantage. Arda scored for Turkey, though Pletikosa got a hand to it.

Srna scored for Croatia, Semih for Turkey. Then Rakitic produced a carbon copy of Modric's miss, albeit missing the left post, before Hamit put the Turks 3-1 ahead after three kicks. It was left to the unlucky Petric to kill off his nation's hopes by placing his kick too close to Rustu.

Turkey had pulled victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat by Croatia in the most dramatic of circumstances, proving their three-goal comeback against the Czech Republic was no flash in the pan. Terim's team now advance to meet Germany in Basel for a place in the EURO 2008 final.

Croatia are left to rue their failure to convert over 120 minutes, and wonder at the extraordinary capacity of football to swing fortunes and make the unforeseen happen.
CRO: Pletikosa, Corluka, Robert Kovac, Simunic, Pranjic, Srna, Modric, Nico Kovac, Rakitic, Kranjcar (Petric 64'), Olic (Klasnic 97').TUR: Rustu, Altintop, Zan, Asik, Balta, Topal (Senturk 76'), Sarioglu, Sanli, Turan, Kazim-Richards (Boral 61'), Nihat (Karadeniz 117').
BASEL WED 25th Germany v Turkey
VIENNA THU 26th Netherlands/Russia v Italy/Spain

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