Kovačić’s Brace Leads Croatia to Victory over Turkey in Euro 2024 Qualifiers
Two goals for Mateo Kovačić, both assisted by Mario Pašalić, helped Croatia overcome Turkey at the Timsah Arena in Bursa, moving them level on points with Wales at the summit of Group D in the current European Championships qualification campaign.
With Euro 2024 being staged in his home country, Turkey head coach Stefan Kuntz would have expected the very best from his side, and the Turks initially picked up where they left off in a comeback win over Armenia during the opening Group D matchday. In particular, Kerem Aktürkoğlu caused difficulties down the left, firstly pouncing on a Josip Šutalo defensive mishap, before forcing Dominik Livaković into a world class save. From the resulting corner, Aktürkoğlu tapped home following a Çağlar Söyüncü flick, only to be flagged marginally offside.
After Croatia regrouped, the Blazers drew first blood against the run of play, turning defence into attack down the right before the ball made its way to Pašalić. Despite his dithering in possession allowing a defensive tackle from Turkey, the ball rolled into the path of Kovačić, who once again lived up to his nickname of ‘The Professor’ and gratefully swept home for his first International goal since November 2020.
Capitalising on Turkey’s profound sense of shock, the same combination struck a real killer blow soon after. Mert Günok was unable to hold Pašalić’s left footed effort, leaving Kovačić with an empty goal to tap into on the stroke of HT. It looked a long way back all of a sudden for Turkey, but driven on by an emotional and spirited crowd following February’s earthquake disaster, it was their shining light in Ferdi Kadıoğlu who drove forward with promise. He was brought down in the box towards the end of his jinking run, but Swedish referee Andreas Ekberg saw no wrongdoing.
Pašalić should have wrapped up this battle with an even greater margin late on, but squandered a clear opportunity yards from goal, firing straight down the throat of Günok on the end of a Luka Modrić cross. In the end, Croatia had the quality to see the game out and record a seventh clean sheet in nine away from home. Additionally, they also provided some sort of revenge on Kuntz, who was part of the German side that knocked Croatia out of the Euro ‘96 finals.