Monday, June 16, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 9

Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic
What a way to kick off the final round of group games. Turkey were on the verge of elimination, down 2-0 with 15 minutes to go, but they put together an amazing comeback to beat the Czechs, including two goal in the last three minutes.

It was a nervy opening to the game, with a couple Turkish players booked in the first 10 minutes. There were a few chances for both sides, but the Czechs had the better of the first half. And they took the lead after about half an hour through Jan Koller -- picked instead of Milan Baros for this match -- who opened the scoring with a characteristic header from Zdenek Grygera's cross.

Turkey started the second half more strongly -- an acrobatic scissor kick by Nihat Kahveci that went wide of the target, a good save by Petr Cech to snatch the ball off Nihat's forehead -- but the Czechs extended their lead. Jaroslav Plasil slid in to connect with Libor Sionko's ball in from the right wing, with Turkey indignant because they had been attempting to substitute an injured player.

But Turkey were given a boost in the 75th minute, as Arda Turan made it 2-1 with a shot from the top of the box that just snuck past Petr Cech at the near post. They really went for it after that and were rewarded with just three minutes left, as Cech fumbled a routine cross (yes, it was raining, but you expect better from somebody who's supposed to be one of the best keepers in the world) and Nihat Kahveci pounced. It looked like the game was heading to penalties to decide who would qualify for the quarter-finals, but instead Nihat scored again, through on goal -- I'm not sure if he was offside or if the Czech defence just switched off -- to curl his shot over Cech into the far corner. (Poor Petr. He deserves better, really.)

And then, as if that wasn't enough craziness: Volkan Demirel, the Turkish keeper, got himself sent off. Yes, really. On the verge of stoppage time, knowing there'll be a penalty shootout if your opponents equalize, and he decides that shoving Jan Koller is a good idea. The really excellent part is that Turkey had already used all their subs, so Tuncay ended up in goal, just to add the perfect touch of comedy to a brilliantly insane game.

Switzerland 2-0 Portugal
A thoroughly meaningless match, with Portugal already having clinched top spot in the group and Switzerland the wooden spoon. And it was as uneventful as you'd expect. I actually missed 20 minutes of the first half because my recording cut out, but I don't think I missed that much at all.

Mostly it was a lot of pointless prancing around in midfield by Portugal's B-team -- including one of those Ronaldo-esque wrapping-one-leg-behind-the-other crosses by his doppelganger Ricardo Quaresma. Portugal also had a couple of decent penalty shouts, but they were both waved off by the referee, and nobody seemed too bothered -- I think the Portuguese players were more worried about not getting their pretty white kits all dirty. The exception to this was Paulo Ferreira, one of only three regulars to retain his place, who had to be hauled off before halftime to stop him being sent off, after a nasty tackle on Valon Behrami. Actually, there were quite a few yellow cards for what should have been a relatively peaceful game.

Switzerland did start to push forward more in the second half, once they'd figured out that (a) Portugal was too busy faffing around to actually score goals and (b) Ricardo was having a shaky game in goal. They were rewarded for their effort when Hakan Yakin scored in the 70th minute, a good finish through the keeper's legs after a long ball forward that was flicked on by Eren Derdiyok. Yakin added a second goal 80 minutes later with a penalty after Tranquillo Barnetta was fouled by Fernando Meira. The Swiss fans were delirious, as their team was able to finish the tournament with a tiny smidgen of dignity.

As for Portugal, it's possible that they'll be unsettled by the loss -- not to mention all the foofaraw about Phil Scolari moving to Chelsea -- and lose momentum, but I think they have enough natural arrogance to carry them through regardless.

Next up: Portugal will play whoever finishes second in Group B in the first quarter-final on Thursday, while Turkey face Croatia on Friday

Bad hair of the day award: Miguel Veloso, who looks remarkably like a rooster

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