One Epic June Night: Turkish Drama Amidst the Miracle at Geneva
Charmilles Stadium was a proud stadium that was the heart of Geneva, Switzerland for 72 years. There, the venue first gained fame during the 1954 World Cup, where one of the matched featured happened to be Turkey's first win in a World Cup and that was a 7-0 demolition of South Korea. After the demolition of Charmilles Stadium in 2003, another stadium looked to take its place that Charmilles Stadium did for decades.
Since its opening in 2003, Stade de Geneve has been a venue fitting of memorable matches. It was a stadium that saw England and Argentina renew its global rivalry in 2005. The stadium saw Brazil win its final match against New Zealand (4-0) before it began its 2006 World Cup campaign. Finally, Switzerland has played numerous games since the stadium opened, including a 3-2 victory over Albania at a Euro 2004 qualifier.
It would not be until 2008 that Turkey returned to Switzerland and played what became one of the best games at Euro 2008.
Turkey overcame a flurry of obstacles to defeat the Czech Republic for a quarter-final berth on June 15, 2008. It was a game that saw an unusual set of circumstances such that if the match ended in a draw at the end of regulation, a penalty shootout would determine a quarter-finalist in the group stage.
That would have been a first at a European Championships.
History was not on Turkey's side as the Czech Republic often dominated in the series, including the first victory for the Czech Republic following the break-up of Czechoslovakia. Turkey last defeated the Czech Republic on Dec. 18, 1958. Also, Turkey never scored more than two goals against the Czech Republic in a game. When they drew 2-2 two years ago, Turkey scored twice against the Czech Republic for the first time since 1924.
Czech Republic's Glory and Turkey's Road Road
Ahead of Euro 2008, the Czech Republic were in its heyday since independence, especially in qualifying, middle of its best period of football since independence. Having reach the semifinals of Euro 2004 and playing at the 2006 World Cup, the Czech Republic qualified for Euro 2008, with a 3-0 victory against Germany in München as the most eye-catching result.
The Czech Republic clinched a berth in Germany, the same country where Turkey started its Euro 2008 qualifying. That was because Turkey's first three qualifying matches, contested in Frankfurt, Germany against Malta, Moldova, Norway, were the result of sanctions imposed following its World Cup elimination against Switzerland due to a fracas following Turkey's elimination from the 2006 World Cup playoff against Switzerland. Despite some early positive results, Turkey were on the outside looking in following a 1-0 home lose to Greece.
But wins against Norway (in Oslo) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (at home), courtesy of Nihat Kahveci scoring winning goals in both games, sent Turkey to Euro 2008. Kahveci would be on Turkey's squad; Hakan Sükür, a key figure in Turkey's third-place finish at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, despite scoring five goals in qualifiying, missed the cut to make Euro 2008 and retired from football.
After losing its opening match to Portugal 2-0 at Euro 2008, Turkey trailed 1-0 at halftime to Switzerland in the second match. A quarterfinal berth seemed to be vanishing, but Turkey came back and gained revenge against co-host Switzerland from missing out on the 2006 World Cup. Arda Turan broke a 1-1 draw in stoppage time and Switzerland was the first nation eliminated from Euro 2008.
The Game of the Tournament
Turkish Struggles Early
The task of winning proved difficult for Turkey as it had major injury problems ahead of the match, including a groin injury from Tümer Metin. He and Emre Belözoglu were both scheduled to miss this game, but Metin did start. Emre Güngör started the game in what was only his second cap for Turkey.
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, had the first chance when Marek Matejovsky took a deep shot early in the match and missed. Libor Sionko failed to connect on a Marek Jankulovski free kick, but the Czech Republic were looking for the opening goal. Turkey was looking not to lose control, but it accumulated two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes. Mehmet Aurelio's yellow card was costly; his dissent against referee Peter Fröjdfeldt as he would be ineligible to play in the for the quarterfinal, should Turkey progress.
When the teams met in 2003, Jan Koller scored against Turkey in a 4-0 victory. After Aurelio's yellow card, the Czech Republic looked to score the opening goal, but Koller was unable to keep his header attempt down from a Jankulovski free kick.
But Koller did get another chance and capitalized after 34 minutes. It started with Matejovsky finding Zdenek Grygera, as he flanked on the right side and launched a pass into the penalty box. Koller headed his attempt past Volkan Demirel to score his 55th goal.
Koller scoring for the Czech Republic was often a good omen as the Czech Republic had not lost a game in which Koller scored in over eight years. Koller had two more chances in the first half; Matejovsky did not even finish the half as he was carried off on a stretcher as David Jarolim replaced him.
Turkey had only two significant chances in the first half to score, and both came on set pieces - its key player being Servet Cetin, who had two excellent chances to score. Turkey trailed 1-0 at halftime and needed a spark in the second half.
Fatih Terim's decision to start Semih Sentürk proved ineffective, and Sentürk would not play in the second half. Turkey played inspired football early in the second half, with Kahveci leading the way as Turkey kept the Czech Republic from gaining any offensive possession when possible. Still, Turkey never capitalized on these attempts, and it would be the Czech Republic that doubled the lead in the 62nd minute when Sionko found a racing Jaroslav Plasil in the penalty box. Volkan had a hand on the ball, but could not prevent Plasil from scoring the second goal. A minute later, Turkey used its third substitute as Emre Asik replaced Güngör.
In the 71st minute, the Czech Republic nearly finished off Turkey. However, Jan Polak's attempt hit the post and was unable to capitalize on the second attempt as Volkan stopped the attempt.
Ecstasy, Shellshock and Near Disaster
The Czech Republic stood on the cusp of another quarterfinal berth as they were 15 minutes away from a trip to Vienna. Turkey still had time to pull off another comeback, and it started with the same person who scored against Switzerland four days earlier. He scored his first goal for Turkey just a month before the tournament and in the 75th minute, Arda Turan connected on Hamit Altintop's pass to score in his second straight game.
That goal prompted the Czech Republic to defend the 2-1 lead as it had Michale Kadlec replace Plasil. But in the 82nd minute, Turkey nearly tied the match. Once again, Servet Cetin narrowly missed the net as his header went just wide. This time, the Czech Republic used its final substitution as Stanislav Vleck replaced Sionko to earn his 13th cap in the 84th minute.
Three minutes later, the drama intensified.
Off his throw-in to start the play, Altintop struck a long pass toward the penalty box, with goalkeeper Petr Cech looking to catch the ball. Instead, Cech mishandled the ball and allowed the ball to go through his hands. Kahveci tapped in as the ball slowly rolled into the net. Suddenly, the match was level and penalties were looming, but Turkey wanted this game decided in regulation. After Turkey had tied the game, Volkan launched a deep goal kick that found Altintop. He then found Kahveci, who managed to time the offside trap that Jankulovski set up. Kahveci avoided the offside trap and struck a volley that went beyond Cech's reach and his the crossbar.
Turkey's remarkable comeback was painful for the Czech Republic. Four years earlier, the Czech Republic came from behind in all three group stage matches to win their group at Euro 2004. Now, the Czech Republic needed one last chance to force a shootout, and it nearly did. Koller challenged Volkan for a deep ball, and a mad scramble ended with Vlcek weakly heading the ball just wide of the post.
More drama unfolded as Vlcek got up: Volkan shoved Koller with Fröjdfeldt standing and seeing the action. The referee showed Volkan a straight red card, a decision even Terim said was correct.
Turkey used all three substitutes and had to send Tuncay Sanli as the goalkeeper.
The Czech Republic never capitalized on the man advantage late. The frustration showed as captain Tomas Ujfalusi and Milan Baros received yellow cards for silly fouls, the latter doing so while on the bench for jumping around. Five minutes of stoppage time elapsed, and Turkey had reached the quarter-finals as it defeated the Czech Republic for the first time in 50 years.
A Long Awaited Chance
Euro 2008 showcased one of Europe's best referees in the tournament. At one point, played bandy; however, Sweden's Peter Fröjdfeldt became his nation's premier referee, an honor bestowed only due to an abrupt and controversial retirement to Anders Fisk in 2005.
En route to Euro 2008, Fröjdfeldt officiated numerous matches in Europe, including six 2006 World Cup qualifying matches and four Euro 2008 qualifying matches. Fröjdfeldt refereed Turkey's 3-2 loss at Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo and Croatia's 3-2 victory against England at Wembley Stadium England, both in 2007. Fröjdfeldt also officiated 16 UEFA Champions League fixtures for four years, including a second leg quarter-final between Liverpool and Arsenal on Apr. 8, 2008. A month later, Fröjdfeldt officiated the 2008 UEFA Cup Final between Zenit St. Petersburg and Rangers.
Fröjdfeldt looked to improve from the first game he officiated at Euro 2008 as he allowed in Ruud van Nistelrooy's goal to stand as he officiated the Netherlands-Italy match. Many experts questioned that decision, but Fröjdfeldt correctly made the call, according to UEFA. Following the Turkey-Czech Republic match, Fröjdfeldt officiated the Germany-Portugal quarterfinal before serving as the fourth official in the final on June 29, 2008 between Spain and Germany.
Fröjdfeldt turned 45 on Nov. 14, 2008. By rule, that was mandatory age for the referee's retirement from international football.
Aftermath at Geneva
Euro 2008 ended in heartbreak and the loss to Turkey was the final match for Karel Brückner as manager of the Czech Republic. A month later, Brückner replaced Josef Hickersberger as manager in Austria. Koller's 55th goal would be the final goal for the Czech Republic as he announced his retirement after the game. He briefly returned to play one more game in a 2010 World Cup qualifier. He and many players who made the Czech Republic relevant over the past decade retired. Four years later, only three players from the Czech Republic's 2008 squad participated at Euro 2012: Cech, Baros, and Kadlec.
The Czech Republic missed out on both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
Turkey encountered more drama at Euro 2008. Volkan Demirel was given a two-game suspension for his shove on Koller. Turkey's starting goalkeeper against Croatia in the quarter-final was Rüstü Recber - he and then-Croatia manager Slaven Bilic were players when the teams met at Euro 1996.
Croatia scored on an Ivan Klasnic goal in the 119th minute, only for Semih Sentürk to scored a stoppage time goal to force a penalty shootout. Croatia stumbled in the penalty shootout as it missed three out of four attempts, including Recber's game-clinching save against Mladen Petric. But luck ran out, and the depleted bench and bookings were too much for Turkey to overcome against Germany as it lost 3-2. After 2009, Turkey dropped out of the top 10 of the FIFA Rankings and had not returned since then.
But as the case with the Czech Republic, Turkey missed on the past two World Cups and Euro 2012 - the latter in which Croatia eliminated Turkey at a playoff.
The teams next met on May 22, 2010, and it was also the first ever international match contested at Red Bull Arena (Harrison, N.J.). Just like what happened in Geneva two years earlier, Arda and Nihat scored to give Turkey a 2-1 victory.
Turkey and the Czech Republic undoubtedly played in one of the best games the European Championships have ever seen. What unfolded over the course of nearly two hours was something memorable. For Geneva, this was a particular moment that even the old Charmilles Stadium would have been proud to have witnessed. For the players, for the fans, for the coaches and even for the referee, June 15, 2008, was truly an epic in Geneva served with Turkish delight.
© 2014 Antonio Martinez