Turkey hopes to salvage pride against the Croats

Turkey hopes to salvage pride against the Croats

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey will look to salvage some pride tonight when it takes on Croatia in Zagreb tonight in the second leg of the Euro 2012 playoffs, facing a seemingly insurmountable three-goal deficit.

The team turned in its worst performance in years on Nov. 11, losing 3-0 at home to Croatia at the Türk Telekom Arena in Istanbul in the first leg of the playoffs.

The defeat means Turkey is almost certain to miss out on Euro 2012, and the national media heaped criticism on coach Guus Hiddink after the abject loss.

Criticized by the Turkish press for a tepid performance, Hiddink was also lambasted by Atletico Madrid forward Arda Turan, who was quoted as saying by daily Milliyet that the coach’s tactics had invited the rout.

“Hiddink’s choices opened the way for this result, we had a problem up front in particular because our boss played Burak [Yılmaz] alone up front and we were ineffective in front of goal,” Arda was quoted as saying. “We should have played with at least three players in attack but our boss showed timidity based on our opponents’ place in the world rankings. If your boss managing you from the touchline doesn’t trust his footballers, you are already starting the match 1-0 down.”

The Dutchman was also criticized for emphasizing that Croatia was already a far better side than Turkey following the defeat.

Hiddink has limited options with four key players suspended and defender Giray Kaçar sidelined with a groin strain.

The under-fire Dutchman will be forced to make wholesale changes after Arda, Sabri Sarıoğlu, Emre Belözoğlu and Hakan Balta earned yellow cards which rule them out of the return leg.

Croatia, meanwhile, will miss suspended defender Vedran Corluka and midfielder Tomislav Dujmovic, but coach Slaven Bilic has plenty to choose from in a squad eager to kick-start a party in Zagreb’s Maksimir stadium.

Danijel Pranjic will stand in for Corluka at left back while Ognjen Vukojevic should step in as the holding midfielder; Borussia Dortmund’s in-form forward Ivan Perisic, meanwhile, could be chosen over veteran striker Ivica Olic.

Bilic warned that any premature celebrations after the first leg could be fatal for Croatia and invite history to repeat itself.

Although they have one foot in next year’s finals in Poland and Ukraine, the Croatians will take nothing for granted against the team that knocked them out of the Euro 2008 quarterfinals after equalizing with the last kick of extra time.

With the score 1-1 after 120 minutes, the Turks won the penalty shootout and sent their fans into raptures in Vienna’s Ernst Happel stadium but they were powerless against a galvanized Croatia side in Istanbul.

“I don’t think we will ever be able to get the 2008 defeat completely out of our system but we have already forgotten the game in Istanbul,” Bilic told reporters. “The first thing we all said in the dressing room was that we are only halfway through our task because we face a difficult 90 minutes on our own turf.

 “We will head into the game confident after earning a three-goal cushion in the Turk Telekom Arena, where all the pieces came together for us,” Bilic said.

An Additional Reuters report was used in this story.