Okay, I tried a pun on ‘Arsene’s Magic Hat’ and failed miserably. What was I thinking? So moving swiftly on…What a stunning game.
Even before the game kicked off there was hype already as it could have gone down in history as the first group game in a major international tournament to go to penalties after 90 minutes. Both sides had won one game, lost one and had a goal difference of minus 1 (with both scoring 2 and conceding 3) and therefore had exactly the same record. So a draw would result in a penalty shootout at the final whistle with no extra time.
And the game kicked off 5 minutes later than scheduled as a Turkish player apparently didn’t have the right boots or something (I missed the first few minutes so didn’t see what actually happened).
The first half was cagey and Turkey didn’t really offer any kind of goal threat despite playing with two strikers. The Czech’s on the other hand had started with Jan Koller up top and looked the more inventive side.
The Czech Republic deservedly took the lead on 34 minutes, from a fine Koller header into the top corner.
But it was the second half where all the action took place.
Turkey came out of the blocks the far better side with neat passing and excellent movement but didn’t really put Petr Cech under any real pressure – it was reminiscent of Arsenal sides of old, which would play pretty football but couldn’t offer any real killer instinct.
And against the run of play, the Czech’s scored what looked like the killer second goal.
A quick freekick and break from the Czech Republic saw Sionko released on the right hand side and his cross was brilliantly converted on the volley from the other winger Plasil. There was a bit of controversy surrounding the goal as Turkish defender Gungor was taken off by a stretcher and the Turks couldn’t get the replacement centre back on the pitch. To be fair though, there didn’t seem to be any real breaks in play for the substitution to be made.
After conceding the second goal Turkey looked all over the place, seemingly dejected from Plasil’s goal. And with this the Czech Republic were unlucky not to score a third, when Jan Polak hit the post with a right-footed effort and almost connected with the rebound before being kicked in the head.
But to their credit after that Turkey got their act together and didn’t cave in. They didn’t panic and continued their passing game and tried to break down the Czechs.
And with 15 minutes left they got a lifeline.
Hamit Altintop (who looked really impressive all game) sent in a wicked cross which missed everyone in the middle and landed to the last man Turan, who sent a shot into the near corner passed Petr Cech. It looked like the Chelsea keeper really should have done better but the bottom line was Turkey had some hope.
Turkey were urgent in their play and sent in cross after cross after cross and piled the pressure on the Czechs but couldn’t create any clear cut chances to score that valuable equaliser.
And then with 2 minutes left it happened.
Altintop sent in a fantastic cross with pace and bend but Cech looked favourite to make a comfortable catch. But as time stood still the overrated* Petr Cech fumbled the ball and it landed to the feet of Nihat Kahveci who didn’t need a second invitation to slot into an empty net.
Turkey had equalised, and penalties where coming!
The watching world (well, Europeans anyway) were preparing for a historic penalty shootout to decide who would join Portugal in the second round but before anyone could take in the equaliser Nihat was played in and sent a stunning strike passed Cech and right into the top corner off the bar.
What a turnaround!
Unbelievable. Turkey had come from 2 goals down and stolen qualification at the death! What a fantastic end to possibly one of the best second halves of football in a major international tournament.
I haven’t seen anything like it.
Is anyone else starting to love the European Championships?
* Look at William Gallas’ goal against Chelsea at the Emirates last season. That’s right, I went there.