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Jun 15, 2008

Late drama seals Turkish delight

It wasn't the history that everyone was talking about before the match, but two crazy minutes in Geneva sent underdogs Turkey through with Portugal after a stunning comeback in their final group game contrived to give 30,000 fans one of the most exciting games they will ever see.

Having looked dead and buried from when the Czech Republic had taken a two goal lead in the 62nd minute, Turkey rallied and completed one of the most incredible turnarounds in European Championship history to win the game.

The real trouble started when Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech had fumbled the ball into Nihat Kahveci's path to gift Fatih Terim's side an equaliser. A game that looked like going to the much talked about penalty shootout turned on its head seconds later as Nihat again found the net in the 89th minute to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

What happened in those final few moments would not have been considered possible by many fans after a first-half that saw Turkey muster only two goal-bound efforts.

With the impressive Libor Sionko on the right and Jaroslav Plasil filling the vacant space on the left, the Czechs had most of the opening possession and controlled the game, while Turkey struggled to move forward even when they did manage to string a few passes together.

Two bookings in the opening 15 minutes to the central midfield partnership of Mehmets Aurelio and Topal, ruffled Fatih Terim's gameplan and his players were unable to impose themselves on the game - thanks largely to an over fussy referee.

Indeed, unable to cope with Jan Koller's physicality, Emre Gungor and Servet Cetin at the heart of the Turks' defence looked out of their depth. Matejovsky was the next to benefit from one of the giant's knock-downs, but his shot failed to trouble Volkan in the Turkish goal.

As the half wore on, Turkey began to get something of a foothold but were still being run ragged on the break by the lively Sionko. A brilliant cross from Jankulovski nearly gave him another goal in this year's tournament, but the Czech fans wouldn't have to wait long for their opener.

Stunned by Sionko's movement into the box, the Turkish defence forgot to mark Koller and as Zdenek Grygera floated the ball in, the Nuremburg striker leapt above Servet to find the net for his 55th international goal.

Koller's linking of the play proved the difference in the first half and with no such outlet for Turkey, and the dangerous Arda Turan and Nihat notoriously quiet, the sight of Kazim Kazim warming up only mid-way through the first half said it all for Terim's men.

Changes were needed and, noticeably, the Turkish side came out for the second half a good deal later than their Czech counterparts after an ear bashing from the coach. Sabri Sarioglu came on for Semih Senturk, whose usual success as a super-sub had failed to make an impact from the start and Turks began to press forward.

First through Nihat, then Arda, Turkey began the second half as they hadn't done the first. As the rain began to fall, the Turkish crowd made themselves heard again, a ball in from Topal on the left was repelled by David Rozehnal and Karel Bruckner's men found themselves under real pressure.

Cech was forced into a save from Tuncay's header, before showing his agility to leap above the flying frame of Nihat after great work from Arda to get the ball in.

For their part, the Czechs harried and pressed, but where Sionko was the catalyst in the first half, Arda was at the hub of everything good about the Turkish attacks in the second. Kazim Kazim replaced the mediocre Topal to add some more attacking impetus, but then they were dealt a body blow.

With Emre Gungor stretchered off, the Czechs exposed a gaping hole in the Turkish defence. Servet was unable to cover and he was lucky that it was only the lumbering Koller who burst through unchallenged to send his effort wide.

The warning shot had been fired, but it wasn't heeded. With Turkey slow to replace Gungor, Sionko burst to life again and whipped in a cross for Plasil to sweep into the net. Coming against the run of play, Turkey had only themselves to blame for not getting Emre Asik onto the pitch in time, although the irate Terim was quick to vent his frustrations at the fourth official.

Two down and with a mountain a skilled Swiss alpinist would not attempt to climb in front of them, the game began to slip away. Another superb cross from Sionko saw Jan Polak hit the post before Servet hit his face with a stray boot.

Yet with Koller for practice, the Turks' mountaineering skills improved and they got one back. Sabri crossed for Hamit Altintop who let the ball run across the box for Arda to slot them a lifeline and the renewed vigour of the Turkish attack seemingly turned the game on its head yet again.

Bruckner replied by bringing on defender Michal Kadlic for Plasil and Servet contrived to miss from a free header fours yards out. But as time ticked away was that the last we would see of Turkey in this tournament?

Evidently not. The gods who had smiled on the Czechs in the first half turned vengefully on the men in white. Altintop's ball in wasn't held by Cech as he leapt at full stretch and Nihat bundled the ball over the line to give Turkey an equaliser. Penalties beckoned.

But scenes of Turkish jubilation at the draw were quickly increased tenfold as Nihat was put through by Tuncay moments later to crash the winner in off the underside of the bar. Two minutes of misery for the Czech goalkeeper, lauded by many as the best in world; but the drama wasn't finished.

A crazy push by Turkey 'keeper Volkan on Koller saw him see red in added time. Koller's reaction was woeful for a man who enjoys the physical aspect of the game, but it meant Turkey had to put striker Tuncay in goal, as they had used up all their subs.

Fortunately for him though, the Middlesbrough striker was not allowed to get a hand on the ball and, as the whistle blew, Turkish fans went into raptures. They'll party long into the night after one of the most stunning comebacks in European history. I won't get a wink of sleep. But then neither will Petr Cech.

FANS VERDICT: Considering the Stade Geneve only holds around 30,000 people, both sets of fans really did make it feel like triple that. The best chant of the game came from the Czechs who seemed to cry 'Leave Him Alone!' in reference to the Turks' treatment of Koller. The night will live long in the memory, for one reason or another.

OVER-ENTHUSIASTIC FAN OF THE DAY: The three Turkish supporters who wouldn't let one of the practice balls back on the pitch in the warm-up because they wanted to kiss, take pictures, and generally have their wicked way with it. It was eventually given back, but come on lads, you can buy one at soccernetstore.com.

TURKEY VERDICT: One word. Unbelievable. They looked out of it at half-time, more out of it after the second goal, but then things turned around. Nihat showed what a great goal poacher he is, Arda and Kazim impressed and they could even afford to have Volkan sent off late on - although that might come back to haunt them against Croatia.

CZECH/CECH VERDICT:In the first half Bruckner's men showed great attacking drive - led by Sionko who was head and shoulders above everyone, Koller perhaps excluded. However, letting Turkey get back into the game can only fall on goalkeeper Cech's shoulders. An awful mistake, but one he should have the strength of character to bounce back from.


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