For the winner, a ticket to the 2012 European Championships next summer in Ukraine and Poland, for the loser, a ticket home to disappointment and frustration. Turkey plays Croatia today in a crucial match for both nations bidding for a place in Euro 2012.
The first leg will be played today at Istanbul’s Turk Telekom Arena, a fiery atmosphere will greet both teams. The second leg will be played on Tuesday in Zagreb at the TT Arena to finalise who will get the ticket to Euro 2012 and who will go home.
Both teams have a history against each other. It was only 4 years ago in Euro 2008 that Turkey defeated Croatia in the quarterfinals in a tense match, eventually winning on penalties. Both will be hoping for no such repeat this time round, both teams will want to win convincingly to avoid the agony of a penalty shootout lottery.
Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic was cautious to mention the revenge factor in the match today, saying: “Revenge is an ugly word, and I don’t want to use it because the Turks won fair and square; they didn’t cheat their way into the Euro 2008 semi-finals. They scored a brilliant goal and showed their character, so our motive is to qualify for Euro 2012, not revenge.”
Bilic stated that this match will be a cup final for Croatia, saying: “We will enter the playoff with cool heads and approach it as if it’s a cup final with no return leg.”
Turkey will be hoping for a commanding victory over Croatia in the first leg today in order to ease the pressure of the return match in Zagreb. Turkey coach Guus Hiddink said: “The return leg in Zagreb will be tense and tough. Though I don’t want to think about it, the fact of the matter is that we will also be under pressure. But we have to overcome and this and instead pile pressure on the Croats and force them to make mistakes. And fan support will also be very necessary in this regard.”
Both Turkey and Croatia are big tournament teams. Both nations normally fare well when they qualify to the big tournaments. No matter what happens, whichever one of these teams qualifies for Euro 2012 will be a threat to whoever finds them in their group come next summer.