Croatia Manager Slaven Bilic (l) looks on as the Croatian National Anthem is played prior to the International Friendly between the Republic of Ireland and Croatia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Turkey might be the home side for the first leg of this Euro 2012 playoff clash, but without Nuri Sahin they could well find themselves swamped in a midfield which Tottenham Hotspur star Luka Modric will almost certainly dominate.
Croatia and Turkey should not be playing a Euro 2012 playoff game tomorrow. At least, Croatia probably shouldn't - Turkey have the excuse of finishing runners up behind the Bastian Schweinsteiger-powered German juggernaut, while Croatia managed to surrender top spot in Group F to an unimpressive Greece team, contriving to lose 2-0 in Athens in a match marred by crowd trouble and finishing two points back of the leaders. Croatia's performance in Greece has led, of course, to a do-or-die playoff against a pretty good team in Turkey.
Turkey managed just five wins from ten group-stage matches, but their record wasn't bad when you ignore the obligatory thumpings dealt out by Germany. Guus Hiddink's side did struggle against Belgium and Austria as well as suffering a weird 1-0 reverse at Azerbaijan, but 17 points from 24 doesn't look nearly as inept as 17 from 30. With the likes of Arda Turan and Hamit Altintop set to feature, Turkey should be able to field a strong attacking side that could cause Croatia trouble, although the continued absence of Nuri Sahin (Belozoglu Emre will start instead) could prove problematic.
Croatia, meanwhile, can field one of the world's best midfielders in Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric, and have a bevy of strong supporting players surrounding the little passing dynamo. We all know about his Spurs teammates Vedran Corluka and Niko Krancjar, but the most important non-Modric players on that team could well be dynamic Shakhtar Donetsk right back Diego Srna and Borussia Dortmund erratically-rising star Ivan Perisic. Srna will provide real thrust down the right side, while Perisic can be a game-changer on the right day (and a liability on the wrong one). Former Arsenal man Eduardo, who scored three times during the qualifying campaign, will be around to finish any chances the strong midfield might create, presumably accompanied by Mario Mandzukic in a 4-4-2.
Turkey, meanwhile, have mostly taken to fielding a 4-3-3/4-5-1 shape with would appear to have the advantage in the midfield. The game isn't played on paper, however, and without Sahin the hosts don't appear to have anyone who can realistically deal with Modric in the centre. If Croatia can overcome Turkey's numerical advantage in the midfield, they're probably going to come away from the first leg of this playoff clash with a win.
Turkey vs. Croatia kicks off at 2:05 pm ET, 7:05 pm GMT on Friday. We'll have live coverage of this and every Euro 2012 qualifying playoff match in our Euro 2012 Qualifying Playoffs StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, visit SB Nation Soccer.