Croatia and Turkey battled in UEFA European Championship qualifying on Tuesday. Croatia had heartbreak at home in matchday one, suffering a late equalizer against Wales. On the other hand, Turkey came back in its game to defeat Armenia, 2-1. Therefore, Turkey had the chance to get breathing room in a tough Group D in European Championship qualifying.
However, an unlikely hero emerged as Croatia defeated Turkey in Bursa in the northwest of Turkey. Mateo Kovačić, a major factor in Chelsea’s midfield, only scored three goals in his first 92 games for Croatia. He grabbed both of Croatia’s goals in this game, as the visitors cashed in on their major opportunities in front of the Turkish net.
While Kovačić’s name steals the headlines, it was an impressive defensive effort from Croatia. Turkey, buoyant in front of its boisterous home crowd, had extended spells of possession in Croatia’s half. Most of that came in the first half.
Croatia withstands pressure from Turkey
In the first portion of the game, it was simply all Turkey. The hosts had a clear-cut chance to open the scoring as Cengiz Ünder found himself alone on goal against Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. Just like he did so many times at the 2022 World Cup, Livaković rose to the challenge and parried the shot away.
Not long after, Croatia made a rare foray into the Turkish penalty area. Unlike Turkey, Croatia was clinical. The ball squirmed free inside the 18-yard box, and Mateo Kovačić slotted home past Mert Günok.
Kovačić grabbed Croatia’s second three minutes into first-half stoppage time. With Turkey pressing for an equalizer, Croatia hopped on a rapid halfway counterattack with five Croatians against four Turkish defenders. Luka Modrić played through Mario Pašalić, but Günok was equal to the Atalanta forward’s shot. However, the rebound and the odd-numbered attack from Croatia set up a tap in for Kovačić.
In the second half, Turkey never quite managed to muster the same level of energy it had at the beginning of the game. The Croatian defense, again, as exhibited at the World Cup, was resolute. Turkey repeatedly fired balls towards Livaković, but the majority were not on target.
Scotland picks up massive win in Group A
While Croatia’s result is a strong one, it is not necessarily a shock. Instead, Scotland’s win over Spain would fit that moniker. Spain sent out a relatively inexperienced lineup. The Spain players starting at Hampden Park combined for just 145 caps entering the game. That lack of significant time in competitive international games showed in a hostile Scottish environment.
Riding the back of Hampden Park, Scott McTominay continued his scintillating scoring run with Scotland. With two goals scored in matchday one against Cyprus, the Manchester United midfielder again bagged a brace, this time against the three-time European Championship winners. Both came on low crosses that Spain could not deal with effectively.
After two of the 10 games scheduled, Scotland is top of the group with two wins. Spain, which did defeat Norway a few days ago, is three points behind the Scots. The next time these teams, as well as Croatia and Turkey, have a chance to play again in the qualifiers is June.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pixsell
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