Croatia may go into Friday’s Euro 2008 quarter-final as favourites but Slaven Bilic’s men are wary of being caught out by Turkey’s reputation as the comeback kings.
The Croats made it to the last eight as comfortable winners of Group B with a perfect score of three out of three after wins against co-hosts Austria, heavyweights Germany, and debutants Poland.
Turkey in contrast only snatched their quarter-final place after Nihat Kahveci’s last ditch double for a come from behind 3-2 win over the Czech Republic.
After losing their opener to Portugal and beating Switzerland with a dramatic injury time winner that was sufficient to assure them the runners-up spot in Group A.
Ironically though it was Croatia, with Bilic in defence, who produced the late killer blow when the two teams met at Euro 96 scoring the only goal four minutes from time.
Both are making their second appearances in the quarter-finals, Croatia in 96 and Turkey in 2000, the teams going on to lose their matches to Germany and Portugal respectively.
Portugal coach Luis Felipe Scolari is a big fan of the comeback kings, comparing their style of play to a South American side, and 39-year-old Bilic has warned his players not to drop their guard at the Ernst Happel stadium.
“We’ll be cautious and we’ll be prepared because they’ve come back twice, but of course I’d like us to score first.”
He added: “They play good football, they’re very aggressive, they have some players with great skill and some good strikers of the ball from distance.
“We’ve been following them from the first game, but it’s not easy to communicate the information to our players. It’s easier to talk to them about (Michael) Ballack or (Fernando) Torres. Then again, Turkey won’t know much about our players either because we don’t really have world-class names.”
Turkey coach Fatih Terim, whilst not underrating Friday’s rivals, feels his team have nothing to fear.
“Croatia are a good side, they beat Germany, but we are a good team too and we will get better as each day passes,” said the man known as the emperor.
He added; “They have a young team, they play well, but as far as we are concerned we will go to Vienna and lets hope we stay there, it is winner takes all now.
“We respect all teams, but we fear no one.”
Turkey are beset by injury concerns and suspensions, though, that has been slightly offset by the fact every member of the squad has been awarded a bonus of 150,000 euros each by their federation for reaching the last eight.
Keeper Volkan Demirel misses this game and the semi-final should they win after his late sending off against the Czechs, with veteran Rustu Recber making his Euro 2008 debut.
The 35-year-old Besiktas stopper – who will win his 117th cap – is one of the few surviving members of the Turkey side that reached the 2002 World Cup semi-finals.
Defender Emre Gungor is out of the tournament after picking up a calf injury in that game and there are question marks over fellow defenders Servet Cetin and Gokhan Zan.
Terim’s troubles don’t end there as Emre Asik received a nasty head injury against Switzerland and midfielder Mehmet Aurelio is definitely out as the 30-year-old Brazilian-born player picked up a second booking in the Czech match.
Emre Belozoglu – like Rustu a member of the 2002 vintage – and Tumet Metin are also struggling with hamstring and groin problems and may not figure much either.
On the Croatian side defender Dario Knezevic’s Euro is over after injuring knee ligaments against Poland.
Midfield duo Dario Srna and Ivan Rakitic are expected to be fit despite picking up slight injuries to their calf and knee respectively.
Croatia’s path to the quarter-finals has produced one of the most stirring stories of the competition with the fairytale return of kidney transplant patient Ivan Klasnic.
The 28-year-old, who underwent the surgery in March 2007 after his father donated his kidney, capped his comeback with the goal against Poland.
Klasnic’s teammate, winger Ivan Rakitic, reflecting on that strike, said: “That was not only very important for him, it was important for the whole country.
“You could see how the crowd reacted to him. It was the best of days for him.”
He will be hoping for another one on Friday if not for himself for his country.
The winners of this game will meet either Portugal or Germany in the first semi-final in Basel next Wednesday.
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