Turkey returned to the top of UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 7 with a narrow 1-0 win in Slovakia.
Having lost 2-0 against England in April, Turkey needed three points to keep their hopes of automatic qualification on course. Slovakia can still entertain outside hopes of second place, but Nihat Kahveci scored on 12 minutes to take Turkey two points ahead of England, who have a game in hand.
Slovakia began confidently, though, and Igor Demo's strong second-minute strike was saved by Turkey goalkeeper Rüstu Reçber. Tugay Kerimoglu then went close twice from long range, the first time forcing Slovakian goalkeeper Miroslav König to block, and then the vital breakthrough came.
Tugay was again the key, as he fed Real Sociedad stiker Nihat, who shot into the net from seven metres out. Vladimír Janocko, Martin Petras and the lively Szilárd Nemeth then all had chances for Slovakia, while Nihat appeared on course for a second goal only to be denied by König in a one-on-one.
Robert Vittek made an appearance for Slovakia at half-time, and within six minutes the striker had a chance, but shot over the bar. Turkey's tactics switched to reliance on the counterattack, and it proved an inspired move as they forced a number of chances to keep the home side on the back foot.
First Hakan Sükür went close, and Tugay followed in similar fashion. König saved superbly to deny Nihat on 68 minutes, but Turkey were unable to force a second goal.
However, neither could Slovakia equalise as substitutes Marek Mintál and Vittek both shot wide while Nemeth also had two good chances off target. Rüstu saved from Mintál three minutes from the end, and Turkey's victory was soon confirmed.
'An extremely hard game'
After the game Turkey coach Senol Günes, whose team will now hope that Slovakia deny England victory in Middlesbrough, admitted: "It was an extremely hard game for us. Slovakia had to win to keep their chances alive, but we also needed three points and fulfilled our task here.
My team were better technically and faster than Slovakia, and this was vital. Both games against Slovakia were good, but this is history now. I am going to watch the Wednesday game in Middlesbrough."
'Chances for a draw'
Slovakia coach Ladislav Jurkemik, whose third-placed side must avoid defeat in England to stay in contention for qualification, said: "
We put in a good performance. There were chances for a draw at least, but our players did not manage to score. Nevertheless, not all of them did their best. My congratulations to our opponents, I wish the team all the best in the [UEFA] European Championship."