Turkey managed to pull quite a surprise on Thursday evening, beating Croatia in Osijek to break top of Group D in the Euro 2024 qualifications. The only goal of the game was the work of Baris Yilmas, a lovely chip in the 30th minute that caught Dominik Livakovic in the Croatia goal in no-man’s land.
Why exactly Livakovic was so far from his goal in that moment, only he knows, but it should be said that only his quality kept Croatia level on several occasions before that. Yilmaz threatened with a dangerous shot in the second minute already, and seven minutes later, Livakovic kept out Muhammed Akturkoglu’s rocket from the edge of the box. Just four minutes after that, Turkish goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir hit a long pass forward and found Akturkoglu again, but the winger was thwarted by Livakovic once more.
Even after the goal, the visitors continued creating chances and Akturkoglu came close to scoring in the 40th minute again as a bad mistake by Mateo Kovacic enabled Turkey to attack in numbers.
The second half started pretty much in the same way, with Akturkoglu and Yilmaz terrorizing the Croatia defence. Turkey had two more chances, both set up by Akturkoglu, but Yilmaz fired over the bar from around 10 yards, and Irfan Kahveci’s header was too tame to cause Livakovic any problems.
It took Croatia over an hour to get into anything that looked like a goalscoring opportunity, but in the 65th minute, Kovacic’s feeble shot was cleared by Abdulkerim Bardakci. In the 79th, substitute Lovro Majer came very close, beating Cakir one on one and sending the ball towards the goal, but Samet Akaydin cleared it off the very line, before referee Anthony Taylor blew his whistle for offside. Dion Drena Beljo, also a substitute, came even closer two minutes later, but Cakir made sure his team stayed ahead.
It looked like Croatia would finally get their chance to equalize when Taylor awarded them a penalty, believing the ball to have struck the arm of Hakan Calhanoglu, but his decision was eventually overturned – it had hit Calhanoglu in the shoulder.
Luka Modric was the man who had the last shot of the game, firing desperately from long range and failing to trouble Cakir at all.
Despite Croatia having the ball for 63% of the match and taking more shots (17-14), it was Turkey who hit the target more times (5-6), and it should be said that Croatia’s first shot on target came in the third minute of the first-half stoppage time. By that time, Turkey had already had four.
All in all, Turkey deserved their victory. They played very directly, always seeking to score. As for Croatia, this certainly wasn’t what we’re used to seeing from this team. No creativity, no ideas on the pitch, and they were actually lucky to concede just once.
This triumph has brought Vincenzo Montella’s team within a step from qualifying for the European Championship next year. They top the group with 13 points from six matches, three more than Croatia from five. Armenia (seven from six) and Wales (seven from five) follow. Latvia, who sit at the bottom with only three points from six games, have lost all chance of playing at the Euros.
On Sunday, Turkey host Latvia, and a point there will be enough to seal the deal for Montella and his men. Meanwhile, Croatia will also seek to get the job done by beating Wales in Cardiff.
As things stand at the moment, both Turkey and Croatia appear on course to qualify.
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