Among the many talking points ahead of a tournament like this is the question of schedule order and the best time to face a particular team. Would you rather play the favourites first up when you might catch them cold? Or is it better to play the weakest team to get points on the board and build confidence for bigger challenges to come?
It’s always hypothetical, of course. The order is the order and we'll never know the answer of any of the alternatives. But if you put any stock in history as applied in a cultural context, then there’s a body of evidence to suggest that a game against Turkey is better to played sooner rather than later, especially when Fatih Terim is the manager.
The Turks have only appeared at four major tournaments in the past 60 years, so it's hardly a definitive sample, but they've lost their opening match on each occasion. And yet, from such a weak starting position, they've gone on to escape the group in the three most recent instances (2000, 2002 and 2008), reaching the semi-finals in two of them.
Put simply, Turkey can be seen as a death or glory team, a nation at it’s most dangerous when backed into corner. They are often at their best when the stakes are highest and rarely exit a tournament with regrets, like the proverbial boxer who leaves his best fight in the gym. Terim, arguably the biggest risk-taking coach at this event, personifies that psyche more than anybody.
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Croatia should already know this, of course. They were just seconds away from a place in the semi-finals at Euro 2008 when scoring in the last minute of extra time, only to be left utterly deflated going into a penalty shoot-out when the Turks picked themselves up off the canvas to summon up everything they could muster and throw one last telling punch.
So we shouldn’t surprised either that Turkey reached Euro 2016 with virtually the last kick of the last game in qualifying. Having made a mess of the first 12 months, they came good with a climax of three successive win-to-nil victories over the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Iceland. There was no significant change in tactics or team selection, they just needed the situation to be all or nothing.
Given the overall quality of Group D, you could argue the stakes are high enough to begin with but, taking on board all of the above, you’d still rather this be your first game than your last if you were Croatia. Unfortunately, from an objective standpoint, there’s no real value in backing them. My ratings for this tournament have the match prices and total goals expectancy bang on.
One potential avenue for profit when leaning towards the Blazers, however, is in the goalscorer markets where Ivan Perisic looks decent value. Take the 15/2 available on the left-sided Inter Milan midfielder opening the scoring and cover it with a bet on Perisic to score anytime at 33/10.
The former Wolfsburg man boasts an impressive return of 13 goals in 47 internationals (or 0.54 goals per 90 minutes played), he netted in two of Croatia’s three games at the last World Cup and he’s curiously streaky. Last season, he scored six in eight in one spell, four in seven in another. This season, he bagged four in five last October, and five in five in March. Therefore, two goals in his last three outings can only be a good sign.
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