Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Turkey v Croatia
Turkey dug themselves out of a hole in qualifying but face an equally tough task in negotiating an enticing Group D at Euro 2016, starting with a mouthwatering contest against Croatia on Sunday.
Turkey v Croatia, Sunday 12th June 14.00, ITV
The Crescent Stars secured their place in France by the skin of their teeth after a dreadful start but led by legendary Fatih Terim, the Turks are ready and able to make a splash this summer.
In three previous European Championships Turkey have lost their opening fixture and Terim will be well aware a repeat here could have a fatal impact on the Crescent Stars’ aspirations for reaching the knockout stages. With defending champions Spain and an erratic Czech Republic for company, defeat isn’t an option.
However, I’m not expecting the young squad to shy away from the challenge. With 18 domestic-based players in the party, there’s a familiarity amongst the group that should in turn make Terim’s task of moulding an effective and cohesive unit easier.
The Turkish roster also boasts a sprinkling of stardust with skipper Arda Turan and set-piece specialist Hakan Calhanoglu hogging the headlines from midfield. Honourable mentions go to defensive shield Selcuk Inan and former Arsenal man Oguzhan Ozyakup who compliment the accomplished leading lights.
Although the Turks are backed up by an experienced defence, the Crescent Stars’ backline have run in to a few problems. Injury has ruled out Serdar Aziz and his usual centre-back partner Mehmet Topal is a defensive midfielder by trade. And without a great deal of height across the back, Turkey are vulnerable in the air.
The Weakest Link
Going forward, Burak Yilmaz should be given a starting berth despite his lack of match fitness and it’s arguably Turkey’s weakest link. A fit and firing Burak could cause plenty of problems for Europe’s best defenders but the forward has been blighted by injuries since a move to China.
Still, the squad are in high spirits and arrive in France off the back of an impressive W12-D3-L1 return with their only reverse coming against England in an ill-timed pre-tournament friendly.
For the record, these two nations have met on the international circuit on six occasions and Croatia are yet to taste defeat (W2-D4-L0). In fact, the Blazers haven’t trailed at any point across the six head-to-heads and the layers are putting their faith in Ante Cacic’s charges.
Like Turkey, Croatia’s strength is in midfield.
Few Euro 2016 sides can match the skill, class and panache offered by the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic.
Mario Mandzukic notched three goals at Euro 2012 and will spearhead an excellent attack alongside the ever-improving Nikola Kalinic, giving the pre-match favourites a vital cutting edge in the final third.
But like most sides at Euro 2016, Croatia have their faults. Although only five goals were conceded en-route to France, Dejan Lovren’s exclusion leaves behind a far from convincing back-four featuring the likes of Vedran Corluka and centre-half-by-nature Domagoj Vida filling in at left-back.
The Blazers showcased their class against Italy in two 1-1 draws during qualification – dominating the contest in Milan – and also arrive in decent nick. However, odds of 6/5 on a Croatian victory look just a little too short to support against the underrated Turks.
Neither side look particularly domineering in defence and with a clear preference to play front-foot football, this could be the first high-scoring clash of the competition. With that in mind, backing Both Teams To Score at 21/20 makes most appeal.
Since the start of 2014, 16 of Turkey’s 26 matches have had at least three goals and the Crescent Stars only failed to score in their opening qualification game. Croatia have notched in 20 of their past 25 competitive outings since Euro 2012 so fingers crossed for an entertaining encounter at the Parc des Princes.
Both Teams To Score @ 21/20
*Prices correct at time of publication.