Turkey stun Croatia in shoot-out after extra-time drama (Lead)

June 21st, 2008 - 6:12 am ICT by IANS  

Vienna, June 21 (DPA) Turkey defeated Croatia in a penalty shoot-out following a remarkable last few minutes of extra-time in Vienna Friday to reach the semi-finals of the European Championships and a meeting with record champions Germany. The victory came after a dramatic end to the extra-time period following a goalless draw. Croatia celebrated what they thought to be a late winner from Ivan Klasnic, only for Semih Senturk to equalize for Turkey with virtually the last kick of the game.

Turkey kept their cool in the penalty showdown, winning 3-1 after Croatia missed three of their four spot kicks - the last saved by veteran goalkeeper Rustu Recber - and Turkey converted all of theirs.

An emotional Turkey coach Fatih Terim said: “What has happened to us today is unique in history. We have become one of the most important football nations. Our people can celebrate with us. If our people are proud of us then we are proud of our people.”

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic put a brave face on defeat, saying Turkey’s last-gasp equalizer from Semih was “a dream goal.”

“It is unbelievable. That is why football is the best sport in ther world,” he said.

Both teams were fighting to reach the last four of a Euro tournament for the first time, and it looked as if it would be Croatia when substitute Klasnic headed into the net in the 119th minute.

But with the game going into a second minute of time added on after the end of the 30-minute extra period, Fenerbahce striker Semih blasted in an unlikely equalizer in a stunning climax to what had been a disappointing game until then.

It was the third match in a row in which Turkey have pulled a game out of the fire in the last seconds after defeating Switzerland and Czech Republic in the group stage with last-gasp goals.

Klanic, who had replaced Ivica Olic seven minutes into extra-time headed into an empty net in the 119th minute after Rustu had left his goal to try to get the ball from Luka Modric near the byline. Modric simply turned away, then crossed to find Klasnic in front of an open goal.

However Rustu made amends for the error almost immediately when, with time already expired on the clock, he kicked a long ball down field and Semih pounced on a failed clearance to blast the ball into the top corner of the net.

“This is indescribable,” said Turkey’s Hamit Altintop.

“Now anything can happen. If we carry on like this and believe in ourselves then a lot can happen.”

The late drama made up for an unattractive goalless 90 minutes in which Croatian enjoyed the best of the opportunities.

After the high-class first quarter-final between Germany and Portugal the previous evening in Basle, the 51,428 capacity crowd in Ernst-Happel-Stadion had to endure a dull and disjointed game.

Terim could perhaps excuse his side’s lack of cohesion after injuries and suspension forced him to reshuffle.

There was a new look to the defence with Emre Asik and Gokhan Zan in the centre, while veteran keeper Rustu was recalled in place of suspended Volkan Demirel, who will also miss the semi-final.

Turkey began brightly and Hamit Altintop fired wide from 20 metres, but Croatia looked more threatening, and Olic should have opened the scoring in the 19th minute.

Olic was facing an empty goal on a pass into the six-yard box from Luka Modric, but the SV Hamburg striker managed to strike the bar instead of the back of the net in one of the misses of the tournament.

Turkey rarely got forward after the break but remained stubborn in defence and Croatia, who had looked so inventive in defeating Germany 2-1, found it hard to create any danger.

Olic and Ivan Rakitic had opportunities and a free-kick outside the box from Darijo Srna six minutes from time was well saved by Rustu.

The 35-year-old keeper, Turkey’s most-capped player in his 117th game, had experienced some uncertain moments but then thwarted Modric from close range in the final minute to take the game into extra-time.

Croatian fans in the stadium, who had been lighting flares in the stands, raised the noise levels in the extra period after Turkey began to look mor enterprising, and Semih Senturk fired over the bar before Tuncay Sanli narrowly shot wide of the post.

Croatia were already eyeing up a return match with Germany in the a semi-final in Basle next Wednesday.

But perhaps shocked from Semih’s equalizer, Modric and Rakitic both missed the goal completely from the spot while Srna converted his and substitute Mladen Petric saw Rustu save his effort.

Arda Turan, Semi and Altintop all converted their penalties for Turkey to secure a remarkable victory.

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