Last-gasp Turks strike again

Turkey lived up to their billing as comeback kings with a 3-1 penalty shoot-out win over Croatia on Friday to put them into the UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finals.

The spot-kick lottery was called for after the side's were inseparable at 1-1 after additional time, both of those goals coming in the dying minutes of what up to then had been a forgettable affair.

Ivan Klasnic put Croatia into a 119th minute lead - for his second in successive matches - only for Turkey to level in the first minute of stoppage time thanks to substitute Semih Senturk.

Croatia then fell apart, with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic shooting wide and Mladen Petric having his spot-kick saved by Turkey keeper Rustu Recber, who turned from villain to hero having made a terrible mistake to gift the Croats their goal.

Turkish delight
The Turks, making their first appearance in the semi-finals, face Germany in Basel on Wednesday. Coach Fatih Terim, who was in charge when Turkey lost 1-0 to Croatia in EURO 1996 in the group stages, was justifiably ecstatic.

"What has happened to us is unique in our history," said Terim, who was not in charge when Turkey reached the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals. "We have become one of the great footballing nations. Our people can rejoice. And if our people are proud of us then we are proud of them," added Terim, whose nickname 'The Emperor' is taking on a realistic hue.

His Croat counterpart Slaven Bilic was remarkably calm after seeing his dreams dashed in a matter of seconds.

"It's incredible but that is why football is the most beautiful sport in the world," said the 39-year-old, who had to mask his own emotions at the end of the match to console his distraught players.

"I congratulate Turkey but we have beaten better opponents and the last two minutes I cannot begin to describe, both our goal and theirs and then penalties," he added. "The pain of this defeat will stay with me for a long time. It will haunt us forever.

"I thought that it was finished, that we had won and then in a flash this fantastic goal by Semih," Bilic continued. "After that, it was the drama of penalties. Oh well life goes on. Tomorrow is another day. We will now get back into the groove in the World Cup qualifiers."

After Germany's drama-laden first quarter final win over Portugal the night before, this second quarter-final was a big let down, with chances as rare as empty seats in the Ernst Happel stadium.

No changes for Croats
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic fielded the same team that defeated Germany in the group stages, with only two players Danijel Panijec and Rakitic surviving from the side that lined up against Poland on Monday.

Turkey turned up at the Ernst Happel stadium with half a dozen of their first team missing from injury or suspension. Veteran keepr Rustu came in for Volkan Demirel, sent off against the Czech Republic, and manager Fatih Terim also handed a start to London-born Kazim Kazim, who led the attack with Nihat Kahveci.

With so many absentees another headache for Terim was that eight of his players were one booking away from missing the semi-final, should they make it.

Croatia will never know how they didn't go into the lead in the 18th minute, Ivica Olic being guilty of a criminal miss. Darijo Srna set up the move laying the ball on to Modric who raced down the right of the box to cross for Olic only for the Hamburg striker's shot to hit the crossbar from only a couple of metres directly in front of goal .

To add insult to injury Niko Kranjcar missed with his header from the rebound. Tottenham signing Modric summed up the mood of frustration, banging the Austrian turf repeatedly with his fist in frustration.

The game then meandered its way, slowly, to the break, with both sides unable to mount anything much resembling a serious challenge, a 35th minute long range effort from Mehmet Topal aside.

Tense contest
More of the same in the second half and penalties were in the offing. The Croats it was who looked more dangerous in the rare moments they were able to break the Turkish defence, with Rustu quick to deal with a Kranjcar effort in the 58th minute.

The match had a goal from Olic shortly after but it was disallowed for offside.

Terim then made his first substitution, taking off the ineffective Kazim Kazim for Ugur Boral, and Bilic followed, bringing off Kranjcar for Petric.

Minutes later Rakitic squandered Croatia's second gilt-edged chance, his close range shot after being set up by Olic flying high over Rustu's bar.

With quarter of an hour left of normal time Terim switched midfielder Mehmet Topal for Fenerbahce striker Senturk in search of that elusive goal.

On 84 minutes, as Croatia maintained their almost constant pressure, Rustu earned his wages and then some when only his outstretched hands edged out Srna's finely struck 20m freekick.

Extra time produced the badly needed fireworks, but only in the dying minutes. Croatia thought they'd grabbed the winner when Klasnic struck but unbelievably after such a turgid affair Turkey struck back with Senturk equalising with a great shot into the top left hand corner to force the spot kicks.

The win came at a price to Turkey who will be missing Tuncay Sanli, Arda Turan and Emre Asik due to suspension after this trio picked up their second yellow cards of the competition while Nihat went off during extra-time clutching his groin.