Turkey put England, France and arrogant Ronaldo to shame in Euros classic

Sarah Winterburn
Mert Gunok makes ridiculous save for Turkey
Mert Gunok makes ridiculous save for Turkey

After the soporific torture of England’s painfully scratchy and frankly embarrassing win over Slovakia, the intensity of Turkey’s momentous win over Austria almost felt like a different tournament in a different country with different stakes.

This was visceral, this was fierce, this was feverish. Too feverish, it turned out, as cups and other missiles rained down from both sets of fans along with the actual torrential rain.

Austria and Turkey have been amongst those approaching this tournament at full throttle instead of cruising in the middle lane and as the draw pitched them on the opposite side to France, Germany, Spain and Portugal, the very real possibility of reaching a major tournament final did not see them freeze, but instead fly at each other with brute force.

It began with a Turkish goal within one minute and ended with the stunning save of the tournament from Mert Gunok that saw every Englishman reach for his Gordon Banks references.

What came between were over 90 minutes of magnificent, unwavering, unadulterated effort, typified by Turkey’s double goalscorer Merih Demiral, who added 17 heroic clearances to his stats sheet as Austria attempted to batter down the white door.

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Indeed, there were Turkish heroes all over the pitch, with Baris Alper Yilmaz offering a precious outlet long after everybody else’s legs had buckled, and Arda Guler delivering two set-pieces for two Turkish goals as well as a mature and calm performance that we are duty-bound to call ‘beyond his tender years’.

The tie of the last 16? Without a shadow of a doubt. The tie of the tournament? Yes, yes, yes. These two teams are not chock-full of superstars like France and England, but they are blessed with men who knew that this was opportunity knocking at the door, and that door needed to be flung open rather than left on the latch.

Every neutral would have prayed for an early goal and Demiral delivered after pin-ball in the box; within the next 10 minutes Austria punched and punched but could not land a blow, undone by the Turkish change of formation that squeezed them in those central areas they have dominated under Ralf Rangnick at Eur0 2024.

Every time they settled on the ball, they were hit with a deafening wall of noise from the Turkey fans, as well as the knowledge that any misplaced pass would see Turkey break at speed. For all Austria’s huffing and puffing – and there was no shortage of effort – Turkey were keeping them at arm’s length.

Rangnick had the novel idea of making changes after 45 toothless minutes and it was against the run of play when another Guler corner was headed home by a leaping Demiral. Seven minutes later Austria struck through their own set-piece thanks to substitute Michael Gregoritsch, and that signalled the beginning of a near-half-hour chase for another.

Austria did little wrong but Turkey were resolute. Actually not just resolute, but brilliant. They kept their discipline, they kept their cool, they kept getting heads and feet on every loose ball until the very last seconds of the match when Christoph Baumgartner thought he had done enough to force another half-hour of this bloody brilliance.

He had done enough but Gunok had more. He had the save of the tournament. To win the game of the tournament. And spark the celebration of the tournament. And breathe.

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