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Turkey Braces for Critical Game as Surprise Packages Meet

The streets of Turkey are all set to be eerily empty Friday night as Turks pack into bars, tea houses or just about anywhere with a television set to watch the national team play Croatia in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals.

Fans of the Turkish national soccer team celebrate Turkey's 3-2 win over Czech Republic after a public screening of the match in the city center of Frankfurt, Germany

The streets of Turkey will be dead during the game but if Turkey wins -- stand well back!

That Turkey even made it to the quarter-finals came as a huge surprise to most.

On Sunday night, with 20 minutes to go and 2-0 down against the Czech Republic in their final game of the group stage, most Turks watching proceedings from afar where downcast.

Three goals in the final 15 minutes, though, sealed a stunning 3-2 victory as the country went crazy.

Thousands of people waving Turkish flags started impromptu street parties as convoys of cars honked their way through the centre of almost every town and city in the country.

It was not so much the victory itself but the dramatic way the Turkish side came back that has lifted spirits so high.

Talk in the capital has been of little else since the victory.

Turkey overwhelmed by soccer fever

Business programs start out with stock analysts discussing soccer tactics, weather reports have been giving detailed forecasts for Vienna (where the match is played) and perhaps inevitably politicians have also jumped on the bandwagon.

During an address to party colleagues on Tuesday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the loudest cheers when he congratulated the Turkish team on their victory over the Czechs.

He said that it was the Turkish spirit of "fighting till your last breath" that won the match, and then went on to say that his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party would also "fight to the last breath" against a court case to close down the party.

Fans of the Turkish national soccer team celebrate the victory of their team after the Euro 2008 soccer match between Turkey and Czech Republic

The party which started after the Czech game continues

A former semi-professional soccer player himself, Erdogan understands that soccer is the one thing that all Turks are passionate about and so it wasn't surprising that he announced he will be in Vienna for the match.

For the fans back home there are no official events such as outdoor screenings or fan zones.

There is no need. Fans will watch the match wherever they can and then, if they win, all streets right across the country will become fan zones and the partying will last until morning.

Predictions over-turned by surprise quarter-final

The country is still caught up in the euphoria of Turkey facing Croatia in an unlikely match-up in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008.

When the draw for the competition was made, Germany were tipped to top Group B for a place in Friday's match, with their most likely opponent from Group A being the Czech Republic.

But Germany failed to secure top spot in the group after being beaten by Croatia. And the Czechs lost to Turkey 3-2 in dramatic fashion to be eliminated, with Turkey coming second behind group winner Portugal.

The result is a Croatia-Turkey quarter-final.

Croatia buzzing after 100 percent group record

Referee Peter Frojdfeldt from Sweden, right, sends Turkey's Volkan Demirel off the field during the group A match between Turkey and Czech Republic in Geneva

Volkan's sending off means Rustu Recber returns in goal

Confident Croatia are one of three sides (Spain and Portugal the others) with a perfect 3-0 record from the group stage.

"We are the better team," said coach Slaven Bilic on Thursday.

Bilic was boosted by good news from team doctors that Ivan Rakitic and Dario Srna are fit to play despite thigh and knee problems, respectively.

"The doctors have given the green light," said Bilic, who is not concerned that defender Dario Knezevic and striker Igor Budan are out for the rest of the tournament. "I do not have sleepless nights over them. I have plenty of options and have a good choice."

He described the Turks as a strong side that play "aggressive and good soccer," adding that the fact that they had twice come from behind to win showed great strength.

"They do not start a match strongly and therefore they are not invincible, but they are very dangerous until the final whistle."

After their impressive performances at the competition, Croatian optimism is sky-high. "The euphoria amongst fans and players is huge, but we have to concentrate on the game against Turkey," said Mladen Petric.

The last time the country reached the quarter-final of a major tournament was at the World Cup in 1998, when they also beat Germany and went on to finish third.

Both sides facing clash without crucial players

Turkey coach Fathi Terim will be without suspended goalkeeper Volkan Demirel and Brazilian-born Mehmet Aurelio.

Croatian soccer fans celebrate after Croatia scored the first goal in the mach between Croatia and Germany

Zagreb has been in party mode for most of June

Demirel has been suspended for two matches after being red-carded in injury time of Turkey's big win against the Czechs while Aurelio received a second booking in the same game and will miss the quarter-final as a result.

The Turkish FA has appealed against Volkan's suspension, but it appeared unlikely that he will be available for the game against Croatia, which would make veteran Rustu Recber the man between the posts.

The two suspended players are not the only ones who could miss the game, as Terim also has players doubtful through injury. Defender Emre Gungor will be out for the rest of the tournament after picking up a calf injury, while captain Emre Belozoglu, Tumer Metin and Servet Cetin are doubtful.

This might mean a place in the defense for versatile German-born Hamit Altintop.

The Bayern Munich player started in midfield against the Czechs and remarked on his homepage that he enjoyed the opportunity.

"I was finally allowed to play in midfield and really enjoyed myself there," he wrote. He was optimistic ahead of the game against Croatia.

"If we play our own game, we can achieve a lot. And that is why we do not need to be scared. The victory against the Czechs gave us a lot of confidence and we now need to make that work for us on Friday."

Altintop said that he believes that even Volkan's absence will not be too much of a handicap. "Rustu Recber is an experienced player and not a bad substitute for Volkan. I am very confident as we have better options, compared to the Czechs."

Whoever plays, the match-up of Turkey and Croatia will certainly end in celebration -- for one of the teams involved and the world of soccer in general.

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