Luka Modric’s wonder-strike just before half-time was enough to fire Croatia past Turkey in the first game of Group D at Euro 2016 on Sunday.
Although a predominantly-domestic national team, Turkey still lined up with the likes of Bayer Leverkusen star Hakan Calhanoglu, Inter new boy Caner Erkin and former Valencia target Ozan Tufan in a 4-5-1 formation, while the Spanish connection was strong in the Croatia XI, with Real Madrid’s Luka Modric playing as a deep-lying midfielder and ex-Atletico striker Mario Manduzkic leading their forward line.
Croatia played the better football and enjoyed more possession, but Turkey were in no mood to back down as they made for a feisty encounter, and the Crescent-Stars wasted the game’s best chance, when Ozan could only head Gokhan Gonul’s cross into Danijel Subasic, who seemed to be a beaten man.
Nonetheless, the Vatreni took the lead when Modric was in the right place at the right time to smash home a first-time volley past Volkan Babacan from just outside the box, although the goalkeeper’s positioning left a lot to be desired.
Turkey could’ve pulled one back moments later, however, had Hakan Balta scored from a corner at the near post, the Galatasaray defender only managing to glance his header into the side-netting.
The second half began with Rakitic gliding his way towards the Turkey D and having his heels clipped by Ozan. Babacan then could only ball-watch as Srna bent the free kick onto the crossbar.
Babacan was involved in another poor piece of goalkeeping not long after, Ivan Perisic’s cross-cum-shot parried into the penalty area by the custodian, yet the rebound was driven inches wide.
Turkey’s aerial ability was found wanting at both ends of the pitch as Hakan Balta failed to head clear a ball into the box at the near post, and it fell straight to Brozovic, who rifled a volley just over.
Fatih Terim made a big call on the hour mark, bringing off talisman Arda after another ineffective display from the Barca man for powerhouse striker Burak Yilmaz, but the China-based attacker was unable to make an impact as Croatia continued to control the match.
Modric and Rakitic, the chief architects of that, suddenly turned defence into attack, but Brozovic’s shooting boots evaded him again as he came a whisker away from sliding home Perisic’s ball across goal, before the winger hit the bar from a header after he climbed highest to meet a cross at the near post.
The Inter star was eventually substituted, but he still had time for another opportunity as he was slipped in behind and peeled off future teammate Caner Erkin, but Babacan was off his line quickly to batter the ball away.
Turkey’s competitive edge ensured they were never out of contention, but it wasn’t to be as Hakan showed persistence to keep going in the Croatia box, but Vedran Corluka – who went through two bloody bandages after a nasty gash to his head – made a last-ditch block to deny the Turk from possibly equalising at the death.
Turkey 0-1 Croatia
Turkey: Babacan; Gokhan, Topal, Hakan, Caner; Calhanoglu, Ozan, Selcuk, Ozyakup (Sen 46), Arda (Burak 65); Tosun (Mor 69)
Croatia: Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Vida, Strinic; Modric, Badelj; Brozovic, Rakitic (Schildenfeld 87), Perisic (Kramaric 87); Mandzukic (Pjaca 90)
Referee: Eriksson [SWE]