Whatever happened at Vienna's Ernst-Happel-Stadion on Friday night, one side would have moved into uncharted territory – a UEFA European Championship semi-final spot. Perhaps inevitably, with such a prize on offer, the game went right to the wire.
In the blue corner were Croatia, one of the tournament's form teams boasting three wins from three in their group. Turkey loitered ominously in the red corner, having gained a formidable reputation as the tournament's comeback kings. Only one could make history. The pre-match tension was discernible among the fans as they gathered around the stadium; rather than the usual confident talk, the air was rife with nerves. The game's early stages matched the atmosphere among supporters as the teams indulged in some cagey sparring – the gravity of the bounty at stake clearly on the players' minds. However, Croatia soon found their range and nearly landed the first significant blow when Luka Modrić's perfectly-weighted centre found Ivica Olić but the forward could not keep his effort down as he slid in and the ball crashed off the crossbar.
The Crescent Stars countered as Mehmet Topal let fly a shot from 30 metres which Stipe Pletikosa was grateful to see drift wide. Long uneventful periods were interjected with flurries of activity as both sides sought to gain control. The weight of a country's expectation seemed to fall particularly hard on Croatia, the pre-match favourites, a burden that the busy Modrić seemed to be literally taking on himself as he dictated the flow of the match. Half-chances were traded as the game drifted into extra time and penalties loomed. Then, finally, Croatia took the lead through substitute Ivan Klasnić in the 119th minute – surely there would be no way back for Turkey this time?
Croatia coach Slaven Bilić had said beforehand how he would brief his charges to be on full alert if they were in front going into the latter stages. They only had three minutes of added time to see out but it proved a minute too long, Semih Şentürk replying with his side's final touch. So to penalties and the burden of expectation seemed to be lifted from Turkey's shoulders while the payload was too much for Croatia after having victory wrested from them. Although we could be certain one side would make the last four, no one could not have foreseen the remarkable circumstances – after nearly two hours of an incredibly tight contest – which brought Turkey to their promised land.
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