Turkey held Croatia to a 1-1 draw at the Maksimir stadium in what was the opening round of 2018 World Cup qualification games in Group I.
The match was undoubtedly Turkey’s toughest on the fixture list considering Croatia have the highest FIFA ranking in the group and beat Fatih Terim’s side in the European Championships over the summer.
Turkey crashed out of Euro 2016 in disarray with allegations of player bonuses causing a rift within the team. Regardless of what did or did not happen it was clear that something was seriously wrong. The Crescent Stars looked lethargic and underperformed in their first two games against Croatia and Spain before showing some fighting spirit in the 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic.
Terim decided enough was enough and made radical decisions after the tournament. Barcelona star Arda Turan was dropped, as was most of the old guard including Selcuk Inan, Caner Erkin, Gokhan Gonul, Burak Yilmaz.
The Turkish national team boss’ team selection against Croatia came as a bit of a shock. 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund wonder-kid Emre Mor being selected was one thing but to include inexperienced youngsters such as Kaan Ayhan and Okay Yokuslu was a real gamble. The Emperor as he is known in Turkey decided to stick with Volkan Babacan in goal but made changes in every other area.
The defence was comprised of Ismail Koybasi and Sener Ozbayrakli as full-backs, Mehmet Topal kept his place in defence and was joined by Serdar Aziz who returned from injury.
Things got even stranger in midfield. Ayhan – who is a defender – started in midfield alongside Ozan Tufan and Yokuslu as part of a central trio that had never previously played together.
Mor was deployed on the right flank while attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu started on the left wing and Cenk Tosun was given the nod upfront following injury to Manchester City youngster Enes Unal.
The average age of the side that started for Turkey was just 24 years of age and two of the midfield trio – Ayhan and Yokuslu – went into the game with just three caps between them. Terim had not however, completely lost the plot. Turkey were outmuscled in central midfield the last time they faced Croatia. Terim decided to opt for a more physical approach to stop Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic this time around. Ayhan – 1.85m – and Yokuslu – 1.88m – are both tall, powerful, mobile players were given the task of closing down Croatia’s midfield weapons.
Croatia did not enjoy the same freedom in midfield this time around and Turkey were more effective breaking up play. The Crescent Stars also had an outlet this time around with Mor who was a menace in the first half with his darting forward runs.
The first half was in the balance with both sides creating scoring opportunities – although Croatia probably had the edge having hit the cross bar – until Koybasi needlessly brought down Modric in the penalty area to concede a penalty. Rakitic stepped up and converted the spot kick to put the home side ahead.
Back in Euro 2016, Turkey fell to pieces after conceding against Croatia however, this time around the team showed more backbone. Mor won a free-kick after being brought down by Modric after another mazey run. Free-kick maestro Calhanoglu stepped up and scored – with the thanks of a wicked deflection off the Croatia wall – just before the half-time break.
GOOOOOOOL HAKAN ÇALHANOĞLUUUUUUU. The free kick maestro strikes again! Turkey 1-1 Croatia pic.twitter.com/x8zVcr2m3j
— Turkish-Football.com (@Turkish_Futbol) September 5, 2016
Ayhan picked up an injury and was replaced by 21-year-old defender Ahmet Calik soon after the interval which meant Turkey effectively had their best defensive midfielder – Topal – as a centre-back and a defender replace another defender in midfield.
Olcay Sahan replaced his Besiktas teamamte Tosun on 71 minutes. The fact that Terim had to turn to a winger as his replacement for Tosun shows the problems he is facing in the striker department. Mor tired from the 60th minute onwards and the head coach could have taken him off earlier than the 84th minute for Volkan Sen but this was an evening of unusual calls.
The footballing annals are full of the next Messi’s, Pele’s and Ronaldo’s who crumbled under the pressure of trying to live up to the biggest talents in world football. Mor may just be one of the few exceptions that actually reach their potential. The Dortmund kid is not the complete package just yet but has potential to be under Thomas Tuchel.
— Turkish-Football.com (@Turkish_Futbol) September 6, 2016
Croatia ended up hitting the crossbar four times but Terim will be focusing on the positives. Turkey were far more dangerous going forwards and created several chances compared to just one goal scoring opportunity against the Croats last time around. The Crescent Stars do not usually get off to a great start in qualification campaigns but then again there was nothing usual about this Turkish side.
Terim’s revolution got off to a start nobody was expecting. The young Turks are on the rise and the culling of the old guard may be the fresh start the national team needs.
Croatia 1-1 Turkey
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Croatia: Lovre Kalinic, Vrsaljko, Corluka, Vida, Strinic, Badelj, Modric, Pjaca (min. 80 Nikola Kalinic), Rakitic (min. 64 Brozovic), Perisic, Mandzukic (min. 85 Kramaric)
Manager: Ante Cacic
Turkey: Volkan Babacan, Şener Özbayraklı, Serdar Aziz, Mehmet Topal, İsmail Köybaşı, Okay Yokuşlu, Ozan Tufan, Emre Mor (min. 84 Volkan Şen), Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Kaan Ayhan (min. 53 Ahmet Yılmaz Çalık), Cenk Tosun (min. 71 Olcay Şahan)
Manager: Fatih Terim
Goals: min. 44 Rakitic (Penatly) (Croatia), min. 45+3 Hakan Çalhanoğlu (Turkey)
Yellow Cards: min. 90+1 Ozan Tufan, min. 90+3 Olcay Şahan, (Turkey)