A dull quarterfinal game explodes into action in its final moments
Vienna: Someone had to make history on Friday night but they took their time about it. For 119 minutes this quarterfinal had been resolutely unrepresentative of a stimulating tournament.
Then it exploded and, when the smoke cleared, it was the Turks who were left standing, the improbable winners of a match between two sides who had never previously made it through to the last four of the European Championship. Now Fatih Terim’s side go on to meet Germany in the semifinal knowing it needs fear nothing and no one.
After a largely barren hour and a half extra-time had been like watching two men in a desert fighting over the last cup of water: not remotely pretty but bizarrely compelling. Only two minutes of the 120 remained when Rustu Recber, Turkey’s hitherto immaculate veteran reserve goalkeeper, rushed out of his goal, failed to clear the ball and was stranded as Luka Modric’s instant cross found its way to the head of Ivan Klasnic.
The Croatian masses were still celebrating victory when Semih Senturk popped up at the other end to thump an astonishing equaliser for the masters of footballing escapology.
Modric missed with Croatia’s first penalty, a cruel punishment for his side’s most creative player, who had earlier manufactured chances that should have been taken by others.
Rustu saved Mladen Petric’s fourth kick, meaning Turkey’s three successful attempts — from Arda Turan, Semih and Hamit Altintop — were enough to give them a victory that eclipses even their amazing comeback from 2-0 down against the Czech Republic five days earlier.
This was always going to be a night of wild noise and unbridled passion, although no one could have predicted the nature of its denouement.
Of the 16 nations in these finals none make a more emphatic display of national pride than Turkey and Croatia, two republics created in their modern incarnations at opposite ends of the last century.
The stadium was a heaving ocean of red and white, with the Croatian supporters vastly outnumbering the Turks.
It is 12 years since these two countries first played each other in a final tournament, at the City Ground during Euro ’96, and on Friday there was only one survivor from that meeting: Rustu, the 35-year-old called in for Volkan Demirel, suspended for two matches after so idiotically pushing Jan Koller to the ground as their final group match reached its boiling climax.
Rustu was no more than a spectator when Croatia contrived the best opening of normal time, Modric racing on to a through-ball down the right after 19 minutes and delivering a perfectly judged square pass that Ivica Olic side-footed against the bar from six yards.
Modric sank to his knees as Nico Kranjcar headed the rebound wide, beating the turf in frustration.
But when Kranjcar put in a similar cross from the left a few minutes later, Rustu showed excellent reactions to snatch the ball away from Olic and with less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining his flying save from Darijo Srna’s powerful 25-yard free-kick kept his side in the game.
With Modric and Ivan Rakitic largely stifled and Kranjcar giving way to Mladen Petric, Slaven Bilic’s team seldom got close to the kind of stylish football that took them to a hat-trick of victories in the group stage.
On a night when awkwardness was more prevalent than artistry, Turkey’s dogged persistence proved to be the key. Tuncay Sanli, Arda and Emre Asik will all miss the semifinal, each having received his second yellow card of the tournament, but it seems unlikely that they, Terim or the rest of the squad will be worrying about that.
This tournament has a history of unlikely winners. Denmark came out of nowhere in 1992 and four years ago Greece proved that a football competition could be won by a team that had no intention of playing football. If Löw spends the next few days wondering whether Turkey could just turn out to be the next surprise package, he will not be alone.
The result: Turkey 1 (Semih Senturk 120+2) bt Croatia 1 (Ivan Klasnic 118) (3-1 on penalties). — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008