Luka Modric’s display was lauded by his coach, Ante Cacic, as among his finest for Croatia, one crowned by a wonderful volley that sealed victory for his team.
This was Modric’s 90th cap and Cacic said: “Luka, he really deserved to be talked about, especially after this match. This was one of his best matches for Croatia, he was really playing well, he was really our leader. He scored this magical goal and at the end it was the only goal. So we need Luka in this form because all the team looks different, looks better, looks more aggressive.”
Croatia deserved to win for their classier play and the narrow margin is down only to the spurning of chances as they reached for sharpness during this Group D opener. A watchable spectacle in a vibrant atmosphere lacked true rhythm for similar reasons, with Turkey even further from being a well-oiled football machine than their opponents.
As Modric sparkled, Parc des Princes was a cauldron reverberating to the thunderous noise made by two sets of passionate supporters. Beforehand the feel was one of friendly rivalry. When the referee blew his whistle to start, it moved closer to fractiousness: boos and whistles rending the air as Modric was felled by Ozan Tufan, then Turkey’s Oguzhan Ozyakup by Milan Badelj.
Each time Jonas Eriksson gave free-kicks but resisted taking out his yellow card. Before the scything down of Modric, the No10 had begun a move that should have ended in Croatia’s opening goal. Taking the ball on the right, Modric flipped it further wide to Darijo Srna. The captain would repeatedly threaten along this corridor during the first half and this time he chipped over a cross that Ivan Rakitic should have finished. Instead the Barcelona man could only fling a shin at the ball and, although Volkan Babacan was beaten, the goalkeeper’s right post was not.
Later Tufan was similarly wasteful. Gokhan Gonul stepped up from right‑back and sent the ball floating into the area. Tufan rose above Domagoj Vida and was near to Danijel Subasic’s goal. The header was weak, however, and worked as a backpass for the keeper.
Cacic’s side were playing the prettier stuff but the general quality was a hodgepodge. By half-time Turkey had managed only one corner and were 1-0 down. This was Modric’s peach. For the opportunity he had slipshod defending from Selcuk Inan to thank, for the execution his own special talent.
When Rakitic’s header required a hoof away, Inan fashioned a lobbed clearance that hung in the sky about 25 yards out. When it fell to earth, Modric’s keen eye watched it on to his right boot and one sublime volley later Babacan was beaten and Euro 2016 had been decorated with a memorable moment.
This was a fair yield for Croatia’s greater quality. Modric wandered off at the interval grimacing – perhaps because of a knock – and to the cries of “Luka, Luka”, which he acknowledged.
Fatih Terim, the coach when Turkey defeated Croatia on penalties to reach the Euro 2008 semi-finals, removed Ozyakup for Volkan Sen for the second half in a reshuffle that meant his men were a 4‑2‑3‑1, too. It made little difference. There was a scramble in the area that could have led to a second goal for Croatia. Then Rakitic tore apart Turkey’s rearguard with a surge that caused Tufan to hack at him. After the No16 was booked, Srna smacked the free-kick against the bar. Within moments the same player scuffed a golden opening to register with Subasic’s goal at his mercy.
The insipid stuff from Terim’s team was signified by the removal of the captain, Adel Turan, on 65 minutes for Burak Yilmaz. Terim proved trigger-happy with substitutes as, four minutes later, off came Cenk Tosun for the 18-year-old Emre Mor.
Croatia continued to drive forward. Ivan Perisic headed against the bar from a Mario Mandzukic cross and the head wound Vedran Corluka sustained in the opening half required further dressing.
Next up for Croatia are Czech Republic in Saint-Etienne on Friday night. “I said to my players, I am more afraid of Czech Rep than Turkey, so I just want to forget this victory as soon as possible and try to focus on the next match,” Cacic said. Turkey must now try to beat Spain. “Unfortunately, we never start well in these big tournaments,” Terim said. “I am upset.”