Turkey evoked their dramatic comebacks of UEFA EURO 2008 to beat the Czech Republic 2-0 at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis and give themselves the chance of a last-16 spot as one of the four best third-placed teams here in France.
Burak Yılmaz and Ozan Tufan scored each side of half-time as Fatih Terim’s men overhauled a Czech outfit chasing a win themselves to secure their own qualification for the knockout stage. Instead the team in turquoise eliminated them, just as they had eight years ago in Geneva.
Turkey’s first goal at these finals was easy on the eye, if not the ears given the majority pro-Turkish crowd. Arda Turan released Emre Mor down the right and his cross was perfect for Burak to smash first time past Petr Čech. It was Burak’s eighth goal in his last 11 internationals.
Tomáš Sivok, one of three Turkey-based players in the Czech side alongside Tomáš Necid and David Pavelka, nearly produced a quick equaliser with a header against the post.
And despite Turkey always looking dangerous on the counter, the lost opportunities piled up at the other end: Pavel Kadeřábek shooting at Volkan Babacan, Necid prodding over and Jaroslav Plašil seeing a long-range strike tipped over.
Neither team was close to qualification at the halfway stage in Lens. Emre might have made things clearer but fired over after an exciting diagonal surge while Vladimír Darida and Necid gave Volkan more work to do.
Crucially, however, Ozan Tufan brought a bit more definition to the qualifying picture on 65 minutes when he blasted home after Mehmet Topal had nudged Selçuk İnan’s free-kick back towards him. The next 24 hours will determine whether his strike was enough.
Man of the match: Burak Yılmaz (Turkey)
Besides his pivotal early breakthrough, Burak was a threat in the air, winning three challenges, while also creating two openings for others and having another effort on target. He pipped teenager Emre, another eye-catching performer on his first finals start.
Invoking the spirit of 2008
“It’s not over until we say it’s over” was Turkey’s pre-match manta according to Fatih Terim. And it still isn’t over after his side’s two-goal winning margin, half of the four required to clinch qualification for certain but sufficient nonetheless to stay in mathematical contention.
This Turkish rescue act involved six – Hakan Balta, Mehmet Topal and Arda on the field, Nihat Kahveci, Tuncay Şanlı and Tümer Metin in the back-room team – of the boys of 2008 who came from two down to beat the Czechs 3-2 and reach the quarter-finals.
That adventure ended in the semis; we find out when matchday three concludes tomorrow whether the 62-year-old Terim – who also oversaw Turkey’s EURO debut in England 20 summers ago – has departed this championship stage for possibly the last time.
Don’t mind the gap
Turkey’s opener bridged the generation gap, with 12 years between Emre, the 18-year-old attacking prodigy newly signed by Borussia Dortmund, and seasoned front man Burak.
The strike moved the 30-year-old Beijing Guoan forward into joint-third in the Crescent-Stars’ all-time scoring chart alongside Lefter Küçükandonyadis on 21 goals, with only Tuncay Şanlı (22) and Hakan Şükür (51) ahead of them.
Pavel Vrba restored 26-year-old Bursaspor attacker Necid to his first XI after his point-saving penalty against Croatia. The move made sense given the Czechs had won 11 of the 12 matches in which their No7 had scored for his country, drawing the other.
The leggy Necid carried the Czechs’ offensive operation in a style slightly reminiscent of Germany’s Thomas Müller. However, as Müller himself is finding at these finals, the ball just wouldn’t go in for him tonight.