Croatia v Turkey
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PARIS • 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 today.
The Croats 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 on penalties.
They 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 is more important than getting revenge.
"The bitter feeling of that loss can only be compensated by winning the European Championship," the 30-year-old centre-back said.
"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 in the 2008 shoot-out, said: "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 play-offs 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 Croats was imperative ahead of matches against twice defending champions Spain and the Czech Republic.
"Winning this game would pave the way for a last-16 berth," he was quoted as saying by the Turkish media. "I believe that if we work hard, we can advance."
Terim is likely to field the side who beat Slovenia 1-0 in a friendly last Sunday, with scorer Burak Yilmaz set to 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 Turan 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."