Turkey defeat Czech Republic and send Northern Ireland through
Tonight’s 2-0 win for Turkey cheered as loudly in Belfast as it was in Istanbul
Turkey’s midfielder Ozan Tufan (C) celebrates after scoring his goal during the Euro 2016 group D football match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Bollaert-Delelis stadium in Lens. Photo: Getty Images
This is some achievement from Michael O’Neill’s team and, while they must wait until Wednesday night to know who their opponents will be, they will hardly care.
Before the anthems were sung a flare went off behind the goal Turkey attacked in the first half and there was a commodity rare at this rain-plagued tournament: sunshine.
This lit up the late Lens evening in the same manner as the opener that Fatih Terim’s side created after 10 minutes. A stadium in which Turkey fans considerably outnumbered their counterparts were overwhelmed by excitement as Burak Yilmaz made a clever run into the area, where he produced a sweet first-time finish to Emre Mor’s cross.
The move had been initiated by a pass from Arda Turan, Turkey’s captain who was hauled off in the opening game defeat by Croatia and was also jeered during the defeat by Spain.
The goal may have delighted Turkey supporters but moments later the Czech Republic came close to an equaliser. From a corner from the right Tomas Sivok rose above a clutch of players to head against Volkan Babcan’s right post.
This final Group D match was being contested in a fever-pitch atmosphere that gave it the feel of a late-game goal chase with only seconds remaining, the crowd constantly whistling and urging the players on. One moment Mor was drawing a foul from Pavel Kaderabek and Selcuk Inan was hitting this at Tomas Necid in the wall, the next Kaderabek was the one in on Babacan’s goal and claiming a corner following a weak shot then goalkeeper saved.
From this, the ball eventually looped to Necid but his attempted inside-out volley with his right foot went high.
Before the break, Turan was a footballer transformed. There was a drag-back, then a crafty pass with a heel. Then a surge through midfield and pass that while hit too hard was a warning that his confidence was high.
The Czechs best moment came from Jarolsav Plasil. Before this he was booked for a faintly ridiculous foul in which he kicked Mor’s calf then flew to the ground like he was the injured party. Now, though, he took the ball in a central area and fired a shot at Babacan that dipped and ended with the goalkeeper lucky to make a two-handed save.
By the time William Collum blew for the interval the referee had officiated a half of low technical quality but higher on the entertainment scale. And at this point Northern Ireland had qualified for the last-16.
This had become a lovely mid-summer’s night decorated by a long, orange-streaked sunset. For Turkey to avoid having to ride off into it and out of the tournament they required a 4-0 victory - so three more goals - or for other results to go their way in Wednesday’s final games.
If either of these scenarios was unlikely they could at least go down scrapping. The way Hakan Balta scythed down Necid took the sentiment too literally. For this he was booked and moments later Gokhan Gonul clashed heads with Sivok, though this was a clear accident.
The next in this catalogue of spills was Babacan, though the way he launched himself then punched at a cross he could easily have caught was more a calamity. His next save was genuinely required as he dived low to his left to deny Necid’s low skimmer.
But then the “football, bloody-hell” factor struck as Turkey doubled the lead against the run of play. The ball was laid back for Ozan Tufan and he smacked a pile-driver past Petr Cech and it was 2-0.
This caused the setting off of three or four more flares behind the same goal as the previous one and Turan and Gonul to run towards the delirious Turkey fans there to implore them to stop.
While a steward was also seen taking one out, Turkey now pressed for the two more goals required to qualify.
This was always probably too big an ask and proved so. Now, though, is the time for Northern Ireland to celebrate. Guardian Service