Three thoughts after Turkey eliminated Croatia on penalty kicks following a 1-1 tie in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals:
• Rüstü to Semih = Flutie to Phelan. Every time you think the Turks are done, they come up with another epic comeback. Has soccer ever seen anything like this? Three times the Turks have been down in this tournament. Three times they have come back to prevail. Today’s comeback was the most unlikely yet. Turkey was dead and buried after Ivan Klasnic had put Croatia ahead in the 119th minute. One minute remained. Turkish legs were wobbly with fatigue. When goalkeeper Rüstü Reçber booted a Hail Mary free kick toward the Croatian box in the final seconds there was only one possible Turkish recipient: Semih Sentürk, who was surrounded by a half-dozen Croats. Naturally, the ball fell directly to Semih, who rocketed a shot into the upper 90 just seconds ahead of the final whistle. Absolutely insane. Did anyone think the Croats had a chance on penalties after that? Whatever the Turks have done to appease the Soccer Gods, they are getting a thousand-fold payback.
• It really is a new tournament in the knockout rounds. Let me get this straight: two teams that clinched first place in their opening-round groups after just two games (Croatia and Portugal) are already out of the tournament in the quarterfinals. It’s yet another reminder that what’s important is to make it to the knockout stage ... and then forget everything that just happened. Opening-round style points just don’t matter anymore: a word to the wise for both Spain and the Netherlands.
• The big winner today: Germany! Not only do the Germans now avoid a semifinal meeting with a full-strength Croatia (which has already beaten Germany once in Euro 2008), but they get to face a Turkey side that will be missing four top players to suspension (Tuncay, Arda Turan, Emre Asik and Volkan Demirel) and likely several others to injury (including Servet, Emre and Emre Gungor). I know the Turks have been highly adaptable, but right now they’re having a hard time finding 11 warm bodies to put out on the field.
Through-balls: Have you ever seen a goalkeeper live through a 10-minute period of highs and lows more extreme than Rüstü Reçber did today? First he gifts the Croats their goal by venturing way too far off his line. Then he sends the Hail Mary to Semih for the last-second equalizer. And then he makes the game-clinching penalty save on Klasnic. The most-capped player in Turkish history just added a few more chapters to his story ... Arda Turan may just be 21 years old, but as he showed on Turkey’s first penalty (and in his late goals against Switzerland and the Czechs) he has nerves of steel ... Why do these TV commentators always act like a game is over when there’s still time on the clock—especially when Turkey is involved? ... Nice to see that Tommy Smyth knew the exact odds on the game, Brent Musburger-style ... The TV shot of Darijo Srna bawling like a baby afterward choked me up a little bit, too ... You think Volkan Demirel wishes he hadn't stayed in the technical area after his red card against the Czechs (which drew him a TWO-game suspension)?
Have you ever seen a keep-hope-alive soccer team quite like Turkey? Do you think the Turks have any chance to beat Germany? And can this tournament find any way to possibly be more entertaining? (Oh yeah, Russia plays the Netherlands on Saturday.)
Please post your comments below and check back tomorrow for the latest edition of the Euro 2008 Blog ...