Having been denied in stoppage time at the weekend, Croatia seek a first Euro 2024 qualifying win against Turkey on Tuesday, when the Group D rivals meet in Bursa.
While last year’s World Cup semi-finalists were held to a draw by Wales, their hosts have three points on the board already, following victory in Armenia.
In their first fixture since the devastating earthquake which struck the country last month, Turkey were pitched against regional rivals Armenia on Saturday, in a highly-charged meeting between nations with a long history of enmity.
Though Ozan Kabak’s early own goal put the Crescent-Stars behind in Yerevan, they levelled affairs through Orkun Kokcu before the break and Galatasaray winger Kerem Akturkoglu then found a 64th-minute winner after coming off the bench.
Head coach Stefan Kuntz, a former Besiktas striker and European Championship winner with Germany, therefore posted his 10th win from 15 games in charge and helped put his team ahead of fellow contenders Croatia and Wales in the race for a top-two finish in Group D.
With Latvia and Armenia perhaps set to merely make up the numbers, it seems to be a three-way race for automatic qualification, and Turkey will have to hold off the claims of two nations that have been accustomed to reaching major tournaments of late.
Under Kuntz, though, they appear to be on the right track, as they sealed Nations League promotion back to League B last year and were only beaten by Portugal in the playoffs for Qatar 2022, having lost just once in the group phase.
Indeed, only one defeat in Turkey’s last nine matches since suffering that World Cup heartache means an appearance in Germany – where a huge Turkish community resides – could be on the cards for next summer. However, they will now be faced by one of their sternest tests on the road there, in the shape of Croatia.
When these two nations last met on Turkish soil, a friendly fixture three years ago finished 3-3 in Istanbul, and Croatia have lost only twice to Tuesday’s hosts in 10 previous encounters.
The Croats’ current crop will hope to continue that largely positive trend in midweek, as they let two points slip on the opening night of their Group D campaign; also allowing a direct rival for the top two to take a point away from Split on Saturday.
Andrej Kramaric’s sharp turn and finish gave the hosts a merited half-time lead at Stadion Poljud, and they went on to dominate possession before Ivan Perisic struck the crossbar with a looping shot after the interval.
However, the Vatreni squandered a seemingly certain victory point by shipping an injury-time equaliser to Wales’ only shot on target, which came in the 93rd minute.
Croatia had won 34 and drawn one of their previous European qualifiers on home turf, so even failing to beat Rob Page’s plucky Welsh side comes as something of a blow to morale ahead of a tricky trip to Turkey.
While they will still expect to safely negotiate their way to another Euros by the end of the qualification process, Zlatko Dalic’s men cannot afford to fall further behind in the early running.
Having lost just one of their last 14 matches all told – to eventual champions Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals – their stature as one of Europe’s football heavyweights remains intact, despite an ageing squad. Indeed, the vast experience of Perisic and ageless captain Luka Modric could prove invaluable in Bursa.
After fielding an attacking formation in Armenia, with in-form Getafe forward Enes Unal as his starting striker, Stefan Kuntz could make a couple of changes to counter the very different challenge of Tuesday’s visitors.
Unal had netted six goals in his last four La Liga games before the international period kicked off so is expected to retain his place, but Kerem Akturkoglu scored as a substitute last time out and may force his way into the XI on the left flank.
If the Crescent-Stars revert to a back four, then Roma’s Zeki Celik would most likely come in at right-back, with Caglar Soyuncu or Ozan Kabak perhaps dropping to the bench.
Croatia, meanwhile, continue the post-Dejan Lovren era in their defensive setup, and Josip Sutalo should again join in-demand Josko Gvardiol at the heart of the visitors’ back line.
The familiar midfield trio of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic will be relied upon once again, though Nikola Vlasic and Mario Pasalic are both pushing for inclusion further forward.
Both made cameos on Saturday, but would start only if Marko Livaja is dropped and opening-day goalscorer Andrej Kramaric assumes the centre-forward role instead.
Turkey possible starting lineup:
Gunok; Celik, Soyuncu, Demiral, Elmali; Calhanoglu, Ozcan, Kokcu; Under, Unal, Akturktoglu
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Sutalo, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Pasalic, Kramaric, Perisic