Croatia still haunted by Euro 2008 heartache against Turkey
Friendly sparring between official Twitter accounts has become a staple of present-day football, but it still raised the eyebrows slightly to see Croatia and Turkey engaging in some badinage before this weekend's match at Parc des Princes.
"Eight players scored for Croatia against [Turkey] so far. Hopefully the list will get longer on Sunday," chirped the Croatian Football Federation.
"Sometimes, one goal means everything!" came the reply from Turkey, barely missing a beat.
The accompanying image is seared into Turkish hearts and, you suspect, regularly crops up in Croatian nightmares. It showed the former national team striker Semih Senturk wheeling away with finger to his lips, the Croatia defender Josip Simunic in a heap on the pitch behind him. Senturk had just scored for Turkey in added time at the end of extra-time of their Euro 2008 quarterfinal meeting in Vienna, and equalisers do not get any more dramatic -- mainly because Croatia appeared certain to have won the game after Ivan Klasnic's 119th-minute goal sparked wild celebrations of their own.
Unsurprisingly given the swing in emotions, Turkey proceeded to win on penalties and it is a result that has been hard for the Croatians to shake off -- even if they exacted a healthy measure of revenge when a 3-0 Euro 2012 playoff win in Istanbul ensured they beat their previous vanquishers to a place in the finals.
"I cried like a baby that night," Luka Modric said of that heartbreaking night in Austria. "It was the biggest setback of my career."
Modric missed Croatia's first penalty in the shootout and had more reason than most for tears. The Real Madrid midfielder has certainly recovered since then and the task now is for the national team to show they have done the same.
Their campaign four years ago ended at the group stage and they fared no better at the 2014 World Cup, either. A generation spearheaded by Modric and the Barcelona schemer Ivan Rakitic should be doing better than this, and it will almost certainly be the last chance for the pair to play in the latter stages at a major finals while at their peak.
Mario Mandzukic, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic and Darijo Srna are among other experienced members of an extravagantly talented squad and the challenge faced by manager Ante Cacic is to find the right blend -- particularly in midfield, where the more defensively minded Marcelo Brozovic will be required to add balance.
The Turkey coach Fatih Terim, who oversees a side full of momentum after their rousing qualification as the best third-placed team in the groups, has similar riches at his disposal. Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu are capable of picking any defence apart and this could be a match that falls in favour of the team whose playmakers are afforded the most space on a traditionally tight first match day.
It could also be decided in the dugout. One of the fears commonly expressed by those who follow Croatia is that Cacic -- counterintuitively, given that he is 62 -- lacks experience, a relatively low-key career having taken him around various domestic clubs before he was a surprise choice for the national team job last year. The wily Terim, meanwhile, was the man who presided over the heist back in 2008 -- and Turkey do not seem far from generating a similarly positive feeling.
When Croatia pulled off that victory in Istanbul, the motivating factor had been payback. "We've been waiting and dreaming for the last three years to avenge that match," said their then-manager Slaven Bilic at the time. A generation's need to fulfill its potential should be more potent this time, but there are some who think only one outcome would finally dull the pain.
"The bitter feeling of that loss can only be compensated by winning the European Championship," defender Vedran Corluka, another member of both the 2008 and present-day sides, said last week.
It is a lofty aim, especially given that Croatia are no certainties to qualify from a group also featuring Spain and the Czech Republic, but perhaps it goes to show that Turkey's social media team were right -- and that one goal really did mean everything.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.