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Croats too classy, unless it rains

sports Updated: Jun 20, 2008 18:37 IST
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The coaches of Croatia and Turkey could not be more different.

Slaven Bilic is the youngest coach at Euro 2008. At 39, he wears a gold earring in his left ear, plays lead guitar in a band in Split called Rawbau, and wears a tee shirt with an image of Che Guevara on it (he! he! he!).

<b1>He makes a very modest £35,000 per year. Fatih Terim, known as ‘The Emperor’, wears Italian suits, is 54, has a seven-digit salary and played for his national team 51 times. At home he won four consecutive league titles, before having mixed success at Fiorentina and Milan. Both coaches played as central defenders for their national teams. Both are very respected by their players and it shows.

Team game, Terim way

I was very impressed by Turkey captain Nihat Kahveci against the Czech Republic. Down 0-2 with 15 minutes left, he told a teammate to slow down and not just spray the ball upfield. That showed intelligence and discipline under extreme pressure. He scored two goals as a result.

Turkey has shown itself to be a resilient, never-say-die team with comeback victories against Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Terim has built a very solid, disciplined team that seems to do very well in the rain. Look for the entire Turkey population praying to Allah for a downpour vs Croatia. What is impressive about Turkey is that they don’t have one truly outstanding player, except Kahveci, but instead rely almost entirely on home grown talent that sacrifices itself, passes the ball extremely well and is in excellent physical shape.

When opponents have slowed down towards the end of the matches, Turkey have picked up. They are a humble, hard-working team. This is Terim’s work. They will have to play without their charismatic goalie Demiral Volkan who is suspended for two games and Mehmet Aurelio, the Brazilian-born Turkish midfielder.

Of Modric & other stars

Croatia have some world-class players. Luka Modric has shown why Tottenham paid a record transfer fee for him; he will only improve to Messi and Ronaldinho levels. Ivan Klasnic, the striker who recovered from a transplanted kidney, is being courted by teams from Napoli to Panathinaikos. Dario Srna, the winger, plays for Shakhtar Donetsk who are asking 10 million for his transfer.

One of the best players in the tournament has been left-back Danijel Pranjic of Heerenveen who is very fast and has a powerful left foot. Niko Kranjcar and Ivan Rakitic form a midfield team that has few equals in this tournament. Bilic has overcome the loss of Eduardo with some excellent players and the win over Germany was not a fluke. I must favour Croatia over Turkey in this game unless it rains heavily.

Team formations

Terim will need to replace the suspended Volkan and Aurelio. The back line will probably see goatee-sporting centre-back Cetin Servet with Hakan Balta on the left and probably Gonul Gokhan and Bayern’s Hamit Altintop on the right. Emre Gungor will be missed but despite seeming vulnerable to crosses and headers, it is a decent back line.

In midfield, Arda Turan, Mehmet Topal and captain Nihat can set up and score as well. Nihat plays and stars for Villarreal and is the one bright star of the Turkey team. The strikers are Tuncay Sanli of Middlesbrough and Semih Senturk of Fenerbache who haven’t been particularly effective.

Bilic plans to rock on with Stipe Pletlikosa in goal, Simunic and Robert Kovac, Corluka as right defender and Pranjic as left. Srna, Kranjcar, Rakitic and Nico Kovac work the midfield, allowing star Modric to push up as a classic second striker. Up front, Ivica Olic of Hamburg is particularly fast in a counter-attack, and has an excellent left foot. Klasnic has shown that you can have major kidney surgery and still play in a Euro championship as a substitute, scoring a goal and earning your nickname “killer”. Remarkable.

Modric’s the man

Croatia have powerful weapons. Modric can score and set up as can Olic. Both Srna and Pranjic love to run up the sides and cross. Turkey will have to contain Modric, possibly with Turan or Emre Asik and patrol the sides. In defence, the Croats are more solid than the Turks. Terim will have to get another last-minute miracle from Nihat if he is to win this quarterfinal game and I am sure the Croats will put either Kovac or Simunic to mark him.

The difference might well come from uber talented Modric who has skill and ambition to burn. The Turks have discipline and a vociferous fan base that make every stadium feel like Istanbul. Turkey vs the Czech Republic was one of the most incredible games I have ever seen, with Turkey scoring three goals in the last 15 minutes. This might be the same, although Croatia is a much younger and stronger team than the Czechs. I hear the Turkish airforce has been flying over Austrian airspace seeding the clouds to ensure a constant rainfall throughout the match. Knowing the Emperor Terim like I do, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

PMG

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