Another late show from Turkey served to send Croatia crashing out of the 2008 European Championship on penalties. Ivica Klasnić’s last gasp goal looked set to have won it, only for the Turks to rally late on for a third consecutive game.
Pre-match Croatia were high on confidence, winning all three of their group games. Meanwhile, Turkey have performed below par for the majority of their matches, requiring remarkable late goals against Switzerland and then the Czech Republic to progress behind Group A winners Portugal.
The Turks were without the suspended goalkeeper Volkan Demirel, meaning the erratic Beşiktaş stopper Rüştü Reçber was called upon, whilst holding midfielder Mehmet Aurélio was also sidelined. Croatia went with the same side that had beaten Germany in Group B, featuring the likes of Ivan Rakitić, Ivica Olić and Luka Modrić.
Such on-paper permutations looked set to play out on the field, with Croatia dictating play from early on. With 18 minutes gone, Modrić slid the ball across the box, with Olić connecting only to hit the bar from yards out. Niko Kranjčar then placed his follow-up header wide of the target.
Turkey’s lack of play can be seen in the fact their best first-half effort, albeit a close shot from Mehmet Topal, came from around 30 yards out. Modrić was turning the screw for the Croats, with Turkey struggling to cope. Rakitić’s cross for Olić was headed narrowly wide, whilst Darijo Srna saw a well hit free-kick expertly saved by Rüştü with just seven minutes to play. Despite the onslaught, Turkey managed to hang on for extra-time.
They did manage to play with slightly more freedom in the additional half-hour. Things, however, looked bleak when, with just two minutes to go, Rüştü, who had put in a stellar performance, reverted to his trademark irrational decision-making. Charging down the byline in an attempt to beat Modrić to a deflection, the midfielder got there first. Composing himself to swing in, substitute Ivan Klasnić beat Gökhan Zan to score his second, and undeniably easier, goal of the tournament.
Dejected, Rüştü led his teammates in collapsing to the turf inside the Ernst Happel Stadion. With just 80 seconds remaining, it appeared Croatia were on course to repeat their semi-final performance at the World Cup in France a decade previously. The players and staff mobbed Klasnić, with even coach Slaven Bilić getting in on the celebrations.
Unfortunately, they’d forget to check the script. Heavily criticised for his role in Turkey’s Euro 96 debacle, where they finished pointless in their first-ever championships, it poetically fell to Rüştü to become the hero.
First, he launches a long free-kick into the Croatian box. Four players are underneath it, and fortunately it falls to the man dubbed ‘The Lifeguard’. Semih Şentürk shows nerves of steel to fire past Stipe Pletikosa and live up to his nickname. Bilić is furious, having wanted play to stop to allow Jerko Leko to enter the field of play, but his protests to the fourth official fell on deaf ears.
Instead, the Croatia manager has to submit his list of penalty takers to referee Roberto Rosetti, with Modrić up first. Having been man of the match in normal time, with most of Croatia’s play coming through him, it was to be a cruel twist of fate as he placed his effort wide. Arda converts Turkey’s first penalty, which goes under Pletikosa to hand them an advantage they would not revoke.
Srna manages to score, although Semih follows suit. It appears experience was the order of the day, with 20-year old Rakitić following Modrić to put his spot-kick wide of the target. Hamit Altıntop then scores to make it 3-1, and with a flying save from 35-year-old Rüştü to denying Mladen Petrić, Turkey head into the semi-finals with Germany.
By James Kelly @jkell403