Croatia deserved the victory 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.
For a contest in which Luka Modric sparkled, Parc des Princes was a cauldron reverberating to the thunderous noise made by two sets of uber-fanatical supporters.
Beforehand the feel was one of friendly rivalry. When Jonas Eriksson blew to start the contest this moved closer to fractiousness, boos and whistles rending the air, as Modric was dropped by Ozan Tufan, then Turkey’s Oguzhan Ozyakup by Milan Badelj.
Each time the Swedish official 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 flipped over a precise cross that Ivan Rakitic should have finished. Instead, the Barcelona man, operating ahead of Modric, could only fling a shin at the ball and although Volkan Babacan was beaten the goalkeeper’s right post was not.
Later, as the half-hour mark approached, Ozan Tufan was similarly wasteful. This time, the midfielder’s chance was simpler than Rakitic’s. Gokhan Gonul stepped up from right-back and sent the ball floating into the area. Tufan rose above Domagoj Vida and was near-in on Danijel Subasic’s goal. The header was weak, however, and worked only as a backpass for the Croatia keeper.
Ante Cacic’s side were playing the prettier stuff but the general quality was a hodgepodge. By half-time Turkey had managed only one corner – following a Hakan Calhanoglu free-kick that was deflected – and were 1-0 down.
The goal was a peach from Modric. 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 instead fashioned a lobbed clearance that hung in the sky about 25 yards out. When it finally 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. Milan Badelj might have previously given them the lead but Modric’s partner in Cacic’s 4-2-3-1, produced a powder-puff volley from Babacan’s poor punch that was everything the Real Madrid man’s was not.
Modric wandered off at the break grimacing – perhaps because of a knock – and to the cries of “Luka, Luka”, which he acknowledged to further cheers.
Fatih Terim, the coach when Turkey defeated Croatia on penalties to reach the 2008 semi-finals, removed Ozyakup for Volkan Sen before the second half in a reshuffle that meant his men were now playing 4-2-3-1, too.
It made little difference. There was a scramble in Turkey’s 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 him down. 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 before him.
The insipid stuff Terim’s team were producing was signified by his removal of the captain, Adel Turan, on 65 minutes for Burak Yilmaz. Terim was proving trigger happy with substitutes as only five minutes later off came Cenk Tosun for Emre Mor, the 18-year-old receiving a particular welcome from fans because of his age.
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 until virtually the final whistle.
When blown it was Croatia who wandered off content, having secured the three points.
Man of the match Luka Modric (Croatia)
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