Three Things We Learnt From Turkey 2-1 Austria
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Three Things We Learnt From Turkey 2-1 Austria

02/07/24 22:16

The fairytale of the 2008 Euros could be about to repeat itself 16 years on. Turkey stunned Austria 2-1 in an epic at the Leipzig Arena, which was complete with torrential rain, wonder saves and a set piece masterclass. Here are three things we learnt from a truly memorable last 16 encounter.

Arda Guler is very, VERY good

What a player Arda Guler is. I had not had the opportunity to watch him play before their clash with Austria, but at just 19 years old, he was a cut above every other player on the pitch, and he didn’t put a foot wrong with the ball at his feet. His silky dribbling, incredibly quick decision making and barely believable vision were on show for all to see.

But what really impressed me about his performance was his set pieces. Every time Turkey had a corner or free kick, his delivery was unerringly accurate, and the Austrian defense simply couldn’t handle the whip and pace on the ball. Both goals, converted by Atalanta center back Merih Demiral, came from Arda Guler corner kicks, the first coming after just 57 seconds via a couple of ricochets, and the second landing bang on the forehead of Demiral.

If Turkey can exploit set pieces like that in every game, there is no reason they can’t cause a seismic shock to the competition by reaching the last four. It requires just one thing: giving Guler as much playing time, and as many dead ball situations as possible.

Turkey laid their bodies on the line

I honestly would not be surprised if half of the Turkish team had to sit out their quarter final with the Netherlands from the bumps, bruises and likely internal injuries they suffered throughout the game. In the second half in particular, they were under siege for the entire 45 minutes as Austria kicked into gear, and they received a taste of their own medicine when Austria smuggled the ball home from a well worked corner.

From then on, it was “life on the line” type of defending. Setting up in a back five, they limited the effectiveness of Austria’s wide players, and forced everything into a congested center of the park. The three center backs were absolutely superb, tackling anything whether it was man or ball, and winning headers with a palpable sense of desperation, mixed with a stubborn, determined resolution to keep their opponents at arms length.

Demirel, twice a scorer at the other end, led the line superbly, winning everything in the air, and put whatever was necessary in the way if Austria managed to get a cross or shot off. It was a true warriors performance from the former Juventus man.

There were inevitable Austrian breakthroughs however, and the only reason the game wasn’t forced into extra time was down to goalkeeper Mert Gunok, who in the 5th minute of added time, pulled off a truly spectacular, Gordon Banks-esque save to miraculously tip a close-range Julian Baumgartner header over for a corner, which Turkey duly cleared to the blissful sound of the full time whistle.

It was a tough, gritty, brilliant team effort at the back, and the likes of Spain and Germany would have likely struggled to break down such a cohesive unit.

Austria have gone, but will not be forgotten

It seems cruel that Austria has been eliminated before France. They topped their group, deserved to take a point in their game against Les Bleus, and their overall performances have been far superior to what the French have managed to produce thus far. Sadly though, that is the nature of tournament football, where it is typical for the best team to fall short.

There was no excuse for a ponderous, slow-moving first half where they were rattled by conceding early, and were clearly trying to adapt to Turkey’s back five approach. But they seemed to grow in confidence as half time approached, as Arnautovic forced a good close range save from Gunok, and Baumgartner flashed an effort just past the post.

In the second half, they dominated every aspect of the game, yet found themselves firmly on the back foot when a rare Turkish foray forward resulted in another set piece goal. From then on, Austria penned Turkey in, and when substitute Michael Gregoritsch tucked away a glancing header from Stefan Posch, it seemed they would be able to draw level, with over 20 minutes left to play.

But the Turkish defense would not be broken, and no matter how many passes were threaded into their box, they always had someone on hand to clear the impending danger.

Baumgartner’s brilliantly saved header was their only clear cut breakthrough in the time between Gregoritsch scoring and the final whistle, and it’s one that all of Austria, not least Baumgartner himself, will have nightmares about tonight.

But while they may have been knocked out, they leave behind memorable performances and a much larger fan base than they had coming into the tournament. I am sure the major footballing powers of Europe were watching and thinking “phew, we’ve dodged a bullet there.”

Looking ahead Turkey now have until Saturday to recover from this frenetic contest, when they take on the victors of the five o’clock kick off the Netherlands, who coasted past a resilient Romania team with a 3-0 win.

While they may not be one of the favorites, or even listed as dark horses in viewers' predictions, we all know what happens when Turkey hits their stride, especially when they become involved in marginal games. If you haven’t already, go and watch their entire Euro 2008 campaign on Youtube, and then you’ll see what I'm alluding to. It may be too early to call right now, but I have a feeling Turkey have more than one game left in them.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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