Turkey’s national football team has carried its hopes of claiming a berth in the next year’s World Cup to the last two qualification games by beating Croatia 1-0 at home on Sept. 5.
Striker Cenk Tosun broke the deadlock in the 75th minute when Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic could only push a shot from Oğuzhan Özyakup away towards the feet of Tosun, who fired the ball into the net in front of a packed stadium in the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir.
After facing fierce criticism for his squad choices in a 2-0 loss to Ukraine
on Sept. 2, coach Mircea Lucescu made seven changes to the team that played in Ukraine. The changes included Arda Turan, who returned to the national team after announcing his retirement from international football last May, and Nuri Şahin, who had a particularly good game.
When asked about the changes, Lucescu said he was “trying to find out the players that could bring the best result.”
“I congratulate my players, they were organized and they played cleverly and passionately,” the Romanian told a post-game press conference.
“Now the most important thing is to win against Iceland. If we cannot do it, all this will be for nothing.”
Croatia remains atop the Group I standings despite the defeat, but the group is wide open once again, with four teams jostling for the top two places.
Gylfi Sigurdsson struck twice in Iceland’s 2-0 win over Ukraine
in Reykjavik, putting his side level on 16 points with Croatia. Turkey is in third on 14 points, tied with Ukraine.
In a clash between the section’s bottom two sides, Finland got the better of Kosovo thanks to Teemu Pukki’s 83rd-minute goal.
Turkey will next host Iceland in Eskişehir on Oct. 6, before traveling to Finland for its last qualification stage game three days later.
The winners of the nine European groups go directly to Russia
next year while the best eight of the nine runners-up will clash in playoffs over two legs for a further four spots.
Also in the European World Cup qualification stage on Sept. 5, Spain hammered Liechtenstein 8-0 as Alvaro Morata and Iago Aspas both struck twice to maintain their country’s lead over Italy in Group G.
The victory in Vaduz took Spain to 22 points from eight games, three ahead of the Italians who beat Israel
1-0 in Reggio Emilia thanks to Ciro Immobile’s second-half strike.
In Dublin, Aleksandar Kolarov’s fierce second half strike gave Ireland
its first qualifying defeat and put Serbia in complete control of Group D.
The Roma fullback’s goal came 10 minutes after halftime, and despite a spirited performance from the host the Serbs held on despite having Nikola Maksimovic sent off on 68 minutes.
Ireland drops to third, one point behind a Wales side that beat Moldova 2-0, and now requires two wins against Moldova and Wales to earn at least a playoff spot.