Turkey coach Fatih Terim praises his men after draw with Croatia
AA photoTurkish national team coach Fatih Terim sang the praises of his relatively young squad as the country launched its 2018 World Cup qualification campaign with a lucky 1-1 draw in Croatia on Sept. 5.
Speaking at a post-game press conference in Zagreb, Terim said his side had earned a precious point against a strong team.
“We played against a team full of star players. Most of our players are young and inexperienced but they are ambitious. I am very happy with our level of play and the point we earned,” he said.
The Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb was empty as Croatia was serving a ban on fans due to its supporters’ bad behavior in the European Championship qualifying campaign, the home side hit the crossbar three times in the first half before Ivan Rakitic fired them ahead with a 44th minute penalty after captain Luka Modric was fouled inside the area.
But Croatia’s joy was short lived as playmaker Hakan Çalhanoğlu drew Turkey level barely a minute later with a free kick from 25 meters, deflected by Ivan Perisic past stranded goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic.
Croatia pressed forward relentlessly after the break but the Turks, who famously knocked Croatia out on penalties in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals, held on thanks to resolute defending and saves by keeper Volkan Babacan.
Coach Terim made significant changes to the Turkish squad for the country’s World Cup campaign after being knocked out in the group stages of last June’s Euro 2016. His decision to drop many regulars - including Barcelona star Arda Turan, Galatasaray midfielder Selçuk İnan and striker Burak Yılmaz - has been met with criticism.
The experienced coach, however, stood by his decision.
“I’m happy with my players, we can easily switch systems now, my players have this ability,” said Terim.
“There some young players outside the squad, we will include them too. Every match will help these young boys get better, more mature and gain experience. The players whose legs shook tonight will be much better in the coming games. In the meantime, we will find new players,” he added.
Also in Group I on Sept. 5, Kosovo’s Valon Berisha, given permission to play only a few hours before kickoff, scored for his country in its first-ever competitive international as it came from behind to draw 1-1 away to Finland.
Berisha put away a penalty on the hour after a foul by Thomas Lam on Bernard Berisha to spark delirious celebrations among his teammates and officials.
Kosovo was accepted into FIFA in May, and this was a remarkable result given that world football’s governing body only gave its approval for a host of players to represent the Balkan outfit earlier on Sept. 5.
Among those given the green light at the last minute were goalkeeper and captain Samir Ujkani, previously capped by Albania, Albert Bunjaku, who featured for Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup, and goalscorer Berisha, who was playing for Norway as recently as June.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. About 100 countries recognize it as a state now, but major countries like 2018 World Cup host Russia do not.