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TURKISH DELIGHT

By Mal Content

Turkey's fans believe they are fated to win Euro 2008, and if last night's astonishing and dramatic climax to Turkey's quarter-final clash with highly-fancied Croatia is a gauge, the Turkish delight may not be misplaced.

After a dire and goal-less 90 minutes, in which Croatia were by far the better side and would have been deserved victors but for woeful finishing, the Turkey versus Croatia Euro 2008 quarter-final went into extra-time. And at long bloody last Turkey crossed the halfway line and attempted to win their way to the semi-finals.

However, with the match still goal-less, a penalty shootout seemed inevitable until, in the final minute of extra-time, Turkey's goalkeeper had a rush of blood to his head. Rustu chased a lost cause, Luka Modric crossed the ball into the six-yard box and reported Celtic target Ivan Klasnic won the aerial challenge to head the ball into the net.

Croatia celebrated wildly, justifiably believing Slaven Bilic's side had won the quarter-final with a late, late goal and would meet Germany in the Euro 2008 semi-final.

But this Turkey team does not seemingly know when it's beaten, and in the injury time being played after the regulation extra-time, Rustu launched a free-kick forward. A melee on the edge of Croatia's penalty box followed and Semih Senturk fired for goal and, with the aid of a deflection, beat Stipe Pletikosa for Turkey's last-gasp equaliser.

Croatia visibly crumbled while Turkey celebrated the 1-1 draw ecstatically. There and then it seemed patently obvious there would only be one winner in the penalty shootout and that intuition was proven correct.

Arda Turan, Semih and Hamit Altintop scored for Turkey, while in response Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic missed the target with their penalties for Croatia and Rustu saved the deciding kick from Mladen Petric, Turkey winning the penalty shootout 3-1.

One has to admire Turkey's spirit and ability to fight-back (not for the first time during Euro 2008), but Croatia should have had this quarter-final won thereby avoiding the dramatic finale.

In the first-half, Ivica Olic missed a sitter when set-up by exquisite attacking play from Luka Modric, whose cross was perfect for the Croatian striker, but he crashed his strike off the crossbar from six yards. The ball then rebounded to Niko Kranjcar, who headed over with the goal at his mercy.

In that first-half, dominated by Croatia, Turkey's only attempt on goal of note was a thunderous strike from Mehmet Topal that went inches wide.

In the second period Croatia continued to squander goal-scoring chances, while Turkey defended in numbers and determinedly.

Olic headed over, before also firing wide and having a ‘goal' correctly disallowed for offside.

Olic created a chance for Rakitic with 20 minutes left, but he shot wildly off target, before Rustu made a spectacular diving save from a Darijo Srna free-kick in the 83rd minute.

And minutes before the conclusion of the regulation 90 minutes, Olic, after being set up by Spurs-bound Modric, could only prod his shot into Rustu's arms when it seemed easier to score.

In extra-time, Turkey at last attacked Croatia, but with the match seemingly certain to remain goal-less, the astonishing last-minute drama of two late, late goals and a subsequent penalty shootout unfolded.

Turkey will face Germany in the semi-final, but Fatih Terim will be without the suspended Arda, Tuncay Sanli and Emre Asik, who were all yellow-carded against Croatia, as well as first choice keeper Volkan Demirel, who was of course red-carded against the Czech Republic.

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