Vlaovic exploits Croatia's creativity

Turkey 0 Croatia 1
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The Independent Online

It was a big night for Croatia no matter what the result. A new nation, it was their first match at a major international finals, and they would have relished it even if they had lost. How enjoyable it was for them, then, that they emerged with a victory to take them to the group of Group D.

The goal that announced their arrival at Euro 96 arrived five minutes from the end. Goran Vlaovic received the ball on the half-way line, swept past a defender and then rounded the goalkeeper before passing into the net. It was a brilliant goal in an otherwise mundane match. Not that they will worry about that in Zagreb.

It was an historic moment for Croatia but it was a significant match, too, for Turkey who were also playing in their first European Championship finals. Once the sick men of Europe, just to be in England was achievement in itself as their only previous encounter with the international big time was in 954 World Cup in Switzerland.

The Turkish supporters have embraced the occasion like no others to date, trying their best to make Nottingham a second Istanbul, and the City Ground was ringing with their chants several hours before the start. "I'm not going over Trent Bridge" one taxi-driver said to a prospective passenger who reasoned it could not be more congested than for a cricket Test match. "It's far, far worse, " he replied. "It's bedlam."

The man the Turks came to applaud was the coach, Fatih Terim, who turned the team from cannon fodder into finalists. Ninety minutes before the kick-off he took to the pitch and received a welcome that the winning manager at Wembley on 30 June would be happy to accept. Only Brian Clough, you suspect, has had a better reception at the City Ground.

Croatia have built an awesome reputation for a fledgling nation that stems largely from their defeat of Italy in Sicily in their qualifying group. Their preparation for Euro 96 was also impressive, with four wins and two draws en route to Nottingham.

The Croatians have the pedigree, albeit recently acquired, but it was not obviously apparent in a first half that was shared equally. The Turks had less of the possession yet their counter-attacks, frequently led by Ogun Temizkanoglu, still carried a threat.

After six minutes Sergen Yalcin was just over with a volley from Hakan's Sukur's knock-down and four minutes later the Croats were grateful to Nikola Jerkan, as he intercepted Ogun's cross that was heading towards Hakan.

The Croats' build-up was slower and more precise, much of it flowing through Zvonimir Boban. The Milan midfielder is reported to have interested Alex Ferguson, and the Manchester United manager would not have been put off by the cultured way he dictated the tempo.

The best chance before the interval came after 25 minutes, when Davor Suker strayed to the right wing and took his marker with him. The cross came over and Alen Boksic, filled the gap heading over from the penalty spot when he should have at least hit the target.

The Croats began the second half at a greater pace, although they looked no nearer finding a way through the Turkish defence than they had beforehand. Boban made several dangerous driving runs into the area, but the final pass failed to locate him and it was possibly indicative of a mounting frustration when he was booked after 54 minutes. Two minutes later, the Croat captain was substituted.

The Turks still looked lively and Hakan was just inches away from getting his head to Sergen's free kick after 63 minutes. Then Sergen himself was narrowly wide with a volley three minutes later.

Goal: Vlaovic (86) 0-.

TURKEY (5-4-): Rustu (Fenerbahce); Vedat (Karabukspor), Alpay (Besikstas), Ogun (Trabzonspor), Rahim (Genclerbirligi), Abdullah (Trabzonspor); Sergen (Besikstas), Tugay (Galatasaray), Tolunay (Trabzonspor), Arif (Galatasaray); Hakan (Galatasaray). Substitutes: Hami (Trabzonspor) for Arif, 8; Saffet (Kocaelispor) for Tolunay, 88.

CROATIA (5-3-2): Ladic (Croatia Zagreb); Stanic (Club Bruges), Jerkan (Real Oviedo), Bilic (West Ham Utd), Stimac (Derby County), Jarni (Real Betis); Asanovic (Derby County), Boban (Milan), Prosinecki (Barcelona); Suker (Real Madrid), Boksic (Juventus). Substitutes: Soldo (Croatia Zagreb) for Boban, 58; Vlaovic (Padova) for Boksic, 73; Pavlicic (Hercules Alicante) for Suker, 90.

Referee: S Muhmenthaler (Switzerland).

Bookings: Turkey: Tolunay. Croatia: Asanovic, Boban, Soldo.

Man of the match: Sergen. Attendance: 22,406.