What. A. Game.
Four thoughts after Turkey’s miraculous 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic eliminated the Czechs and sent the Turks to a quarterfinal date against Croatia:
• I can’t believe this just happened. Let me get this straight: the Czechs were up 2-0 in the 75th minute, right? They had perhaps the world’s top goalkeeper (Petr Cech) backing up four seasoned defenders who all play in Italy’s Serie A, right? And yet the remarkable Turks score three times in 14 minutes to win 3-2? And Cech muffs an innocuous cross in the 88th minute to allow the equalizer? And the Czech back four make a hash out of their offside-trap to let Nihat get behind for the 89th-minute game-winner? Absolutely insane. (I fell out of my chair and I haven’t even been drinking.) Never again should Turkey be stereotyped as a team that crumbles when things start going badly. The Turks have now engineered the only two come-from-behind wins in all of Euro 2008, both of them in the second half: against the Swiss (going from 0-1 to 2-1) and against the Czechs (going from 0-2 to 3-2). And they did it with exhilarating soccer.
• Nihat was onside on the game-winner. I’ve watched the replay several times now, and my initial concerns were allayed: Nihat was even with Czech defender Marek Jankulovski when the ball left Hamit Altintop’s foot for the pass. But the Janky-man’s botched offside-trap wasn’t the only Czech error on the play. What on earth was Tomas Ujfalusi doing clearing a ball right onto the foot of the open Altintop? All that said, Nihat showed impressive poise to get free and curl an inch-perfect shot past Cech. That sort of calm was all over the field for the Turks in Nihat, 21-year-old Arda Turan (who started the comeback with another goal) and the relentless Tuncay Sanli—who did it all, even running to hand-deliver a replacement flag to the side-judge and pulling on the goalkeeper’s jersey for the last minutes after Volkan Demirel got a dumb red-card.
• Fatih Terim’s second-half strategy shift worked wonders. By sending in a midfielder (Sabri Sarioglu) for a forward (Semih Sentürk), Terim helped make sure that the Turks controlled midfield possession in the second half after the Czechs had dominated in the first 45 minutes.
• If we’re talking best goalkeepers in the world, I’ll take Gigi Buffon and Edwin van der Sar over Petr Cech. What matters most is how you play when the pressure is on, and while it’s hard not to feel badly for Cech, he really screwed up by handing the Turks an opportunity at the equalizer. Contrast that with: 1) Buffon, who saved Italy on numerous occasions against Romania, not least when he stoned Adrian Mutu’s late penalty kick, 2) Van Der Sar, who came up huge in the Champions League final shootout and has been sterling for Holland so far.
Through-balls: Total bonehead move by Volkan Demirel to draw the late red-card for pushing Jan Koller onto his back. At least Turkey has the luxury of going to an experienced replacement for the Croatia game in Rüstü Reçber ... The key to the Czechs’ success in the first half was its much-improved attacking from the outside backs (Jankulovski and Zdenek Grygera) up the wings. Those guys disappeared in the second half, though.
Can this tournament get any better? How does this comeback compare to the best you’ve ever seen in the European championship? Please post your comments below, and check back tomorrow for the latest edition of the Euro 2008 Blog ...