Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/5
Turkey are set to play host to Croatia on Tuesday evening at the Timsah Arena in Bursa, as one of the matches of the second round within Group D of the Euro 2024 qualifications process. The top two spots, warranting automatic qualification for the main tournament next year, are more than likely to be decided between these two teams and Wales. With all due respect to Latvia and Armenia, who are also in this pack, the chances of either of them qualifying are practically non-existent.
Turkey started the campaign well enough. They came back from their opening-round trip to Armenia with the three points safely packed in their bag, even though the home side took the lead through an early own-goal by Ozan Kabak. Stefan Kuntz’s team bounced back quickly enough, with Orkan Kokcu setting the score back level still in the first half and Muhammed Kerem Akturkoglu netting the winner four minutes after the hour-mark.
It was Turkey’s 10th triumph in 15 matches under Kuntz, and the general impression is that the former Besiktas striker and Germany international is doing a good job. He led the team to the promotion back to League B in the UEFA Nations League, winning League C Group 1 ahead of Luxembourg, Faroe Islands and Lithuania. Even in the unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the World Cup in Qatar, they reached the play-offs and were beaten there by Portugal.
Kuntz named a very attacking lineup to start against Armenia, and he’s bound to make a couple of changes now, given that Croatia play on a different level.
The German tactician is expected to revert to a back line of four, with AS Roma right-back Zeki Celik to start in the place of Kabak, leaving Merih Demiral and Caglar Soyuncu in the heart of defence. Trabzonspor left-back Eren Elmali would then start in the place of Ferdi Kadioglu, and Borussia Dortmund’s Salih Özcan would replace Onur Bulut and play behind Hakan Calhanoglu and Orkun Kokcu in midifeld. Akturktoglu, who came on from the bench to score in Armenia, could start in a wide attacking role this time, supporting striker Enes Unal together with Cengiz Under. Mert Gunok should stay between the posts.
Having played in the final in 2018, Croatia enjoyed another fine World Cup in Qatar last year, losing to eventual champions Argentina in the semifinals and beating Morocco for the third place. They also finished top of League A Group 1 in the Nations League, ahead of the likes of Denmark, France and Austria.
However, Zlatko Dalic’s men didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory in the opening round of these qualifications. Unlike Turkey, they failed to win their match against Wales at Poljud in Split on the Adriatic coast. The manner in which it came probably hurt more than the result itself as Nathan Broadhead struck three minutes into the stoppage time to cancel out the opening 28th-minute strike from Andrej Kramaric.
Croatia are by far the best team in this group, but they mustn’t lose any further ground in the race if they don’t intend to sweat when it reaches the final stretch.
With former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren now retired from international duty, Josip Sutalo should join RB Leipzig star Josko Gvardiol in the centre-back department, with Borna Sosa on one flank and Josip Juranovic on the other, and Dominik Livakovic in goal. The trio of Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric is absolutely irreplaceable in the middle of the park. Mario Pasalic could start as a wide attacker, with Ivan Perisic on the other side and Kramaric attacking through the middle.
With their belts tightened following the disappointing Wales draw, Croatia travel to Turkey with a strong desire (and need) to win, and that should be enough for them to shake off the post-World Cup stupor and showing their true quality.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/5
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