This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
A sensational final 15 minutes in Geneva saw Turkey progress as runners-up in Group A ahead of their opponents, the Czech Republic. Things had looked settled with the Czechs 2-0 up with 20 minutes remaining, but three goals in the final quarter of an hour tipped the balance in Turkey’s favour.
Going into this match both sides had lost to Portugal and beat Switzerland, knowing this was a winner takes all clash at the Stade de Gèneve. Should the scores be level at full time, penalties would be required to decide the victor.
On paper the Czechs were favourites. Despite captain Tomáš Rosický missing the tournament due to a tendon injury and the retirement of Pavel Nedvěd following the 2006 World Cup, the squad still contained the vast majority of the Euro 2004 semi-finalists. The only change to the Czech side saw Jan Koller start as the lone striker over Milan Baroš.
In what was the final of his 90 international caps, it signified a simple game plan of launching long balls and hoping his famed height would do the rest. A few sighting headers for Koller signified the Czech’s early chances, with Turkey’s only notable effort a long-range shot from Tuncay Şanlı which flew narrowly wide of Petr Čech’s left-hand post.
Such pressure paid after half an hour, with right-back Zdeněk Grygera delivering a fine cross into the box. The shortest distance from his foot to a player’s head would be that of Koller, with the six-foot-seven striker powering his header past Volkan Demirel. The Fenerbahçe keeper did connect with his right hand, but it still found its way into the top corner.
It was courtesy of another cross early in the second half that saw the lead doubled. Again from the right, Libor Sionko’s ball was doubled was met by the onrushing Jaroslav Plašil, with the Osasuna midfielder losing Sabri Sarıoğlu to fire low past Volkan with his left foot. It appeared Turkey were heading out, just as they had done under Fatih Terim’s stewardship at Euro 96.
It was very nearly three after Sionko hit the post. This was followed by a controversial high boot from Emre Aşık to stop Jan Polák getting on the rebound. Turkey were all over the place, seemingly needing a miracle to get one goal let alone two. However, just like in the previous game with Switzerland, they left it late.
With 15 minutes to go, Hamit Altıntop played a one-two with Sabri, whose return ball found the Bayern Munich man in a good position on the right of the box. His pullback across the danger zone went all the way to the other side, where Arda Turan was waiting. Without hesitating he hits it, and it squirms beneath Čech’s dive to reignite the match.
Immediately after the restart Hamit punts in another cross, this time from the left, with Servet Çetin’s header missing by inches. In a game that only seemed to allow goals from crosses off the right-hand side, it seemed pointless to break that habit. With three minutes remaining Hamit takes a quick throw-in, receiving back to whipped into the box. Čech advances, although uncharacteristically drops the ball.
Waiting at his feet is Nihat Kahveci, perhaps the last man Čech would have wanted lingering. The striker runs after his shot into the open goal, pumping his fists as he retrieves in celebration. On the sideline, the bench goes crazy, safe in the knowledge another rabbit has been pulled from the hat. Despite their evident joy, however, penalties seem a certainty.
Cheered on by their supporters, Turkey set about to ensure they would not be required. With a minute of normal time left Hamit slides through for Nihat, who is played onside by a deep Marek Jankulovski. Controlling on his left, the striker spins round before curling into the top corner beyond Čech.
Even then drama still had time to unfold at the other end, a mistimed punch from Volkan leaving the goal unguarded only for Marek Matějovský to narrowly put wide. Then, in a follow-up incident, the goalkeeper saw red for shoving Koller to the ground. Tuncay had to go in goal for the final minute or so, although the only use of his arms was to compel referee Peter Fröjfeldt to blow the whistle.
With Rüştü Reçber and Tolga Zengin in the squad, such emergency procedures won’t be required in the quarter-finals. Here in Vienna, Turkey will face Croatia, and on the basis of this performance, Slaven Bilić’s side would be wrong to write the Turks off. Especially going into the final stages of the game.
By James Kelly @jkell403