It was, to contradict the old cliché, a game of three halves. A match which started brightly, brimming with passion and commitment, only to descend into stalemate and inertia and then be salvaged by two dramatic injury-time goals and then, finally, the cruelty of a penalty shootout. Here is the best and the worst of the action in the SOCCERLENS Full Time File…
In a match that lacked real drama until the dying minutes of extra-time, it was ironic that two goals were to come so near the death but of the pair the accolade has to go to Senturk’s improbable but sensational equaliser. With time running out, Turkey resorted to route one football and as the ball fell invitingly just inside the Croatian area, Senturk drew back his left leg and unleashed an unstoppable drive that flew into the top corner and left Pletikosa clutching thin air.
The heroics of Rustu in the penalty shoot out will inevitably dominate the headlines but the most breath-taking stop of the game actually came from the Turkish keeper in normal time when he defied his ageing limbs to spectacularly palm away a superb free kick from Srna. Lining up his effort from 30 yards, Srna unleashed a menacingly curling, driven dead ball effort that was heading for the top corner until Rustu threw himself into the air and tipped the shot over the bar.
It was in truth a relatively clean and malice-free game throughout but Kranjcar illicited winces from the touchlines when he challenged Asik for the ball and left his foot dangerously high. Asik stooped to head the ball, Kranjcar lifted his leg and the end result was a painful blow to the mouth for the Turkish player.
In what was an entertaining first-half, Italian referee Roberto Rosetti was almost entirely blameless in his decisions but questions have to be asked after his failure to award a penalty to Turkey. Middlesbrough’s Tuncay burst into the area and chipped intelligently over Croatian defender Simunic, who not only body checked him but left a lingering yet deliberate arm in his path to deny him a clear shooting opportunity.
In a game of few chances, Olic’s glaring miss for the Croats in the first-half was horribly conspicuous. Modric made a great break down the right of the Turkish defence and squared an inviting ball across the edge of the six yard box but with Rustu stranded and the rest of the Turkey defence praying for a miracle, Olic achieved the impossible and side-footed his effort onto the crossbar.
On such dramatic occasions tradition dictates the goalkeeper of the winning side should take the plaudits but Rustu would never have been in a position to make the vital save in the penalty shootout had it not been for Senturk’s unstoppable last-gasp goal. Turkey looked like gallant losers at that stage but Senturk’s rasping half-volley changed the complexion of the game and as the match headed to the lottery of the shootout, his goal not only gave them a unlikely reprieve but ensured they had the momentum as the dramatic denouement beckoned.
In what was a generally disappointing 90 minutes of normal time, Modric was a rare glimmer of hope, so it was cruel but perhaps inevitable that he would set the tone for Croatia in the shootout by missing the first penalty. It was certainly harsh on the Tottenham-bound midfield playmaker that he failed to even hit the target with his first effort — sending his effort flying wide of the left-hand post — but it sowed the seeds of doubt in the Croatian ranks and gave Turkey cause to hope.
THE TWO GAFFERS
His decision to leave Nihat as Turkey’s lone striker was not a success and had his side perished in the shootout, he may well have been in the firing line for his lack of ambition.
But fate is a fickle mistress and the fact his side emerged victorious will ensure he is tactics will not be put under the microscope.
On a positive note, his defence was solid all game, with the exception of the chance Modric carved out for Olic, and his midfield were combative and competitive throughout.
Greece, after all, won the tournament four years ago with a limited but highly effective game plan and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Turks could, with a little luck, emulate their achievement.
7.5 / 10
He prowled the touchline from the first whistle like a caged leopard and if success was judged on managerial inspiration and passion alone, Croatia would be European champions.
Tactically, Bilic will probably reflect and ask why he didn’t get more support to Olic up front but he can also justifiably argue Croatia looked the more likely to score from the first to the last whistle and they are heading home merely because of the vagaries of a penalty shootout.
The truth is, Croatia are a good side but when it really mattered they were unable to impose themselves on a committed but technically inferior team.