EVER-popular Gavin Horsfall (@GHorsfall) removes his Anytime Goalscorer hat and shares his two best overall bets from Turkey v Croatia on Sunday.
Turkey v Croatia | Sunday 14:00 | ITV1
Turkey and Croatia lock horns in the Group D opener on Sunday with Croatia looking to avenge their 2008 Quarter-Final defeat to Fatih Terim’s side in Vienna.
An extra time goal from Ivan Klasnic looked to have done enough but a late equaliser from Semih Senturk wrestled away the momentum from Slaven Bilic’s side who went on to miss three of their four penalties.
Proving they were nothing but consistent, that quarter-final defeat was the only time Croatia had got through a group stage in their last five tournaments although it can easily be argued that they’d failed at the knockout stage in all of those five.
Four third place group finishes all came as a result of The Blazers failure to win a final game decider, two years ago in Brazil that came in a tepid 3-1 defeat to Mexico while two years earlier it was Spain who coincidentally loom menacingly on the horizon for Croatia in Bordeaux on the 21st June.
If we were to stereotype the Croats as lacking the character for knockout competition then perhaps the appointment of Ante Cacic indicates a change in fortune.
The team were stumbling towards a play-off place under Nico Kovac following a defeat in Norway and 0-0 in Azerbaijan, in came Cacic to steer them to the two wins needed for an automatic place in France.
His tenure got off to perfect start with a 3-0 win at home to Bulgaria with Ivan Perisic giving them the lead after just two minutes and it’s the fast starts that have been the early hallmarks of Croatia under Cacic, his side scoring before the half hour mark in six of his seven games in charge and before the 10 minute mark in three of those seven, a good characteristic for a side that could be averse to the drama of winner takes all football.
Finishing third in their qualifying group was no mean feat for Turkey following defeats in their opening two games, three wins in their final three however saw them qualify for only their third major tournament this millennium after a World Cup appearance in 2002 and that run to a Semi-Final in 2008.
Their pedigree when it comes to group stage escapes compares favourably to their opponents though after getting the job done in both 2002 and 2008 despite opening game defeats at both, a final-16 berth may still await Fatih Terim’s men but they may take their time getting into the tournament, just like they did in qualifying, just like they did in Vienna eight years ago and just like they have done in the run up to the Finals.
It took an attack-light Turkey 89 minutes to grab a winner at home to Iceland and two goals in the last 30 to beat the Czech Republic during the qualifying run-in, whilst recent friendly games saw them struggle for 70 minutes in Qatar, fail to break down Greece and go behind against Austria and England. Terim may already have an eye on the Czech Republic in Lens on the 21st as the key to still being around in late June.
A feeling here that Croatia’s experience almost implores them to start quickly and Cacic will recognise the need to get group qualification settled before the date with Spain.
In that context, Turkey look ideal opponents first up and we might expect the first half to see plenty of action. There’s a couple of options that appeal that at first may seem speculative but make the most out of a fast-start from Croatia.