Friday, June 20, 2008

UEFA Euro 2008: Turkey-Croatia Recap

Greatest. Euros. Ever. A tournament that was already earning praise as one of the best ever added another classic chapter today as Turkey advanced to the semifinals with a 3-1 shootout win over Croatia following a 1-1 draw. Turkey tied the game on the last kick of extra time just moments after the Croats had taken the lead.

There was no lack of chances through the first 118 minutes, but only in the dying minutes of extra time did the game come to life. A misadventure by Turkish goalkeeper Rustu Recber allowed Ivan Klasnic to head home the apparent winner in the 119th minute. The veteran Recber, staring in the place of the suspended Volkan Demirel, made a fantastic leaping save in the final moments of regulation off a Darijo Srna free kick to keep the game scoreless, but was destined to be the goat in extra time.

Seconds before the final whistle, Recber sent a desperate ball downfield that landed at the foot Semih Senturk. Beating two Croat defenders to the ball, Senturk blasted the equalizer on the final play of extra time.

The shootout was a fait accompli, with Luka Modric the first of three Croats to miss. When Recber saved Mladen Petric's shot to clinch the match, his transformation from villain to hero was complete in just over 10 minutes.

Kudos to Croatia coach Slaven Bilic who was gracious in defeat. Bilic immediately complained to the fourth official following the equalizer, insisting that the one added minute had elapsed. I was concerned Bilic would lapse into a blame the officials post-game rant, but he was nothing but classy.

For Turkey it's on to the semifinals against Germany on Wednesday in Basel. With Arda Turan among those picking up a yellow card suspension and Nihat Kahveci adding to the Turkish injury woes, the Turks will barely be able to field a full squad. But who would dare bet against Turkey at this point?

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