Nihat Kahveci's curling strike early in the second half saw off a spirited challenge from F.Y.R. Macedonia and took Group 7 leaders Turkey to a 2-1 win in Skopje today.
After the shock of conceding an early goal, Turkey went into the break on level terms but thanks only to goalkeeper Rüstu Reçber. Twice he saved from Georgi Hristov with the striker through on a goal during an opening period that saw the home side create a series of excellent chances.
The only one that counted came in the first minute when an unmarked Vlatko Grozdanovski caught out a hesitant Turkish defence with a far-post header.
By then Turkey might already have been one up if not for F.Y.R. Macedonia keeper Petar Milosevski who dived at full length to save from Nihat. Moments later, the home side broke up field and Artim Sakiri crossed from the left to allow Grozdanovski to steal in and score.
Turkey came close to drawing level on 17 minutes when Alpay Özalan's close-range shot was collected by Milosevski after a goalmouth scramble. But Turkey continued to look nervous at the back and the home side should have doubled their advantage midway through the half. On 25 minutes, Vanco Trajanov's fierce drive flew narrowly over the bar then Rüstu blocked Hristov's low strike.
Just three minutes later Hristov was made to pay for his miss. Alpay crossed from the right and Okan Buruk flicked a shot with the outside of his right boot beyond Milosevski. Alpay then shot over, but it was the home side who should have gone into the break ahead.
Rüstu to the rescue
Moments before the interval, Hristov wrestled the ball from Bülent Korkmaz near the halfway line and bore down on goal. Rüstu, however, was quickly off his line to save his shot.
Turkey go ahead
Eight minutes after the restart, Turkey struck again. This time, from a short corner, substitute Hasan Sas passed to Nihat on the left side of the F.Y.R. Macedonia box. The striker looked up and, with Milosevski off his line, floated a cross over the crowded penalty area and into the far corner of the unguarded goal.
'We were lucky'
The goal proved a cruel blow to a spirited F.Y.R. Macedonia, and was all Turkey needed to clinch their second qualifying win. "We were lucky to stay in the match in the opening 30 minutes," Turkey coach Senol Günes said. "What matters is that we've come away with three points from this difficult tie."
F.Y.R. Macedonia coach Nikola Ilijevski was more downbeat. He said: "It's a pity we squandered so many chances and it was always going to be an uphill struggle after Turkey took the lead."