Comeback kings rewrite the script
Dave Tickner reflects on another astonishing Turkey comeback and Petr Cech's moment to forget.
Last Updated: 15/06/08 10:39pm
With 15 minutes to go, the headlines were being written: Jan Koller, restored to the starting line-up, had answered his critics in grand manner to send the Czechs through to the last eight of Euro 2008.
The veteran striker - described by the commentators as a "geriatric giant" and "ancient", and now called "old man" almost as often as "big man" despite actually only being 35 - scored the opener with a trademark header after being dropped for the game against group winners Portugal.
With the Czechs cruising 2-0 and Turkey failing to create any chances of note against a well-organised back four marshalled by David Rozehnal, a quarter-final with Croatia beckoned.
And Koller was a fitting figurehead for this Czech side. With no Nedved or Rosicky, their football lacked the flow and style of previous sides.
The awkward but effective battering ram of Koller was getting the job done, and that was what the Czechs were doing: getting the job done.
Their football would win few prizes for flair; this was not the counter-attacking brilliance of the Dutch or the forward swagger of the Spanish.
But they were organised and controlling the game; Koller was still troubling the Turkish defence while the likes of Libor Sionko, Zdenek Grygera and Marek Jankulovski ensured there remained sufficient threat on the flanks to suggest a third Czech goal was the most likely addition to the scoreline.
Fifteen minutes, three goals, an astonishing howler, a red card and an inside-out goalie shirt later, everything had changed and Turkey had staged a comeback even more unlikely than the one they conjured against Switzerland.
Now, the headlines will focus on the Czech Republic goalkeeper, Petr Cech, and Turkey's captain Nihat.
Arda Turan set up the grandstand finish, cutting the deficit with a neat finish squeezed in off the post. But the Czechs still looked capable of running down the clock and preventing the possibility of the group being settled on a penalty shoot-out.
Then Cech inexplicably fumbled Hamit's hopeful cross from the right. Nihat was more alert than his opposite number Tomas Ujfalusi and slotted home from eight yards.
An astonishing error from one of the game's great keepers to send the game to an unprecedented penalty shoot-out. Or so we thought.
In a match that had drifted for so long, suddenly the action was happening in an awful rush. Cech barely had time to consider the gravity of his error when he was picking the ball out of his net again.
Nihat was set clear through the middle - just beating the offside trap - and nervelessly lifted the ball over the advancing Cech and in off the underside of the bar to complete one of the most astonishing turnarounds ever seen.
The Czechs, shell-shocked, could still have forced penalties when Stanislav Vlcek headed wide after a feeble punch from Turkish keeper Volkan Demirel.
Even then the action was not done, as Demirel promptly turned round and made rather better contact with Koller's chest. A straight-forward red card, and, with all three substitutes used, Turkey had to see out the last two minutes of injury time with Tuncay Sanli looking confused in goal.
The sight of striker Tuncay staring blankly at the gloves on his hands while wearing an inside-out goalkeeper's jersey was a fitting end to a topsy-turvy, baffling game of football.