PARIS (Reuters) – Croatia will seek to erase the bitter memories of their Euro 2008 failure against Turkey, described by key players as their most painful defeat ever, when they meet in this year’s Group D opener in Paris on Sunday.
The Croatians had one foot in the last four eight years ago, after taking a 1-0 lead in the final minute of extra time in an epic quarter-final clash in Vienna, only to concede with the last kick of the game before they lost in a penalty shootout.
Croatia have not reached the knockout stages of a major tournament since and defender Vedran Corluka, a survivor from the 2008 side, said navigating a tough group was more important than getting revenge.
“The bitter feeling of that loss can only be compensated by winning the European Championship,” the 30-year-old center back told a news conference in the team’s Deauville base camp in northern France on Friday.
“It’s the distant past and not really in the focus of our preparations but we can push it further back in our minds and, more importantly, make the right start if we beat them at the Parc des Princes.”
Influential playmaker Luka Modric, who missed the opening penalty for Croatia in the 2008 shootout, added: “I cried like a baby that night, it was the biggest setback of my career.”
Turkey have failed to qualify for a major tournament since their impressive Euro 2008 campaign, having been knocked out in the 2012 European Championship playoffs after a 3-0 aggregate defeat by Croatia.
Their coach Fatih Terim, who steered his battling team to the semi-finals eight years ago, acknowledged that beating the Croatians was imperative ahead of matches with holders Spain and Czech Republic.
“Winning this game would pave the way for a last-16 berth,” Terim was quoted as saying by Turkish media.
“I believe that if we work hard, we can advance.”
Terim is likely to field the side which beat Slovenia 1-0 in a friendly on Sunday, with scorer Burak Yilmaz set to the lead the line in front of the versatile Arda Turan and gifted 22-year-old playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu.
Croatia’s attacking midfielder Ivan Rakitic singled out his Barcelona team mate Arda as the biggest threat.
“He is a truly outstanding player and pulls all the strings for Turkey, therefore we have to close him down in order to keep a clean sheet.”
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis)