In the build-up to Turkey's epic 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday night, their captain Nihat Kahveci said of Petr Cech: "He is a goalkeeper who can save the life of his team." Alas, poor Cech, and poor Czechs. The Chelsea keeper did, indeed, have their life in his hands, but uncharacteristically dropped it, spilling a straightforward cross at Nihat's feet to allow Turkey an equalising goal with three minutes to play.
Having been 2-0 up and then hit a post, the Czech Republic were still in shock when Hamit Altintop sent Nihat through a misfiring offside trap to take them to a quarter-final on Friday against Croatia. "There was a lot of water on the ball and it slipped from my grasp," was the Chelsea goalkeeper's explanation. "I know now I should have punched it. After the game, you always know everything. Everybody makes mistakes and I am a human being."
Man of the match in the Czechs' opening game, a fortunate 1-0 victory over Switzerland, Cech will remember the tournament – and be remembered – instead for his howler. Coming after a season in which his club lost the Champions League final on penalties and the Carling Cup final to Tottenham, he will now be even keener than most footballers to find a beach somewhere. "We are absolutely devastated," he added. "It's hard to believe what just happened. That game really sums up my season, especially after losing out on three trophies for Chelsea in the final games. We came so close but blew it in the end."
Cech admitted he and his Czech team-mates folded under pressure in that amazing final 15 minutes. "I think we lacked energy at the end and they lived for the moment," he added.
"With 20 or 30 minutes left to play, it looked like they were going to lose so they began to attack and unfortunately a lot of things went favourably for them and they took some confidence.
"For us, from being calm, there was then a little pressure and the error came with their equalising goal. And the third goal was just a consequence of the second goal. We were almost there and suddenly we weren't."
Cech has vowed to soldier on, adding: "I still have a lot of motivation, it's an amazing thing to pull on a jersey for the national team."
It is the end of the line for many of his colleagues, though. Players such as Tomas Galasek and Jan Koller, who opened the scoring against Turkey with a trademark header, will retire from international duty, while the veteran coach Karel Bruckner will leave after seven years in charge.
"An era has come to an end," Cech added. "The coach is going to finish, he has players who have come to the end of their careers. After all we have done this year, we all deserved more than that. We are going to have to change a lot of things but the quality in Czech football is still there and I think we still have a future." That future will probably be overseen by Bruckner's assistant, Petr Rada.
Turkey's Fatih Terim made a crucial change at half-time, switching Middlesbrough's Tuncay Sanli to a more influential role in centre midfield. "At my home in Turkey I have a phrase on the wall that says, 'Nothing is impossible and miracles take time'," Terim said. "We saw this miracle."
It was not part of the plan, however, that Tuncay should end up in goal after goalkeeper Volkan Demirel was sent off for pushing Jan Koller in the chest. Volkan was the only Turk not celebrating wildly when the final whistle blew.
Volkan's dismissal means Turkey have seven players injured or suspended ahead of their quarter-final against Croatia. Emre Gungor, carried off in the second half of Sunday's match, is their biggest concern. He has a calf strain and may miss the rest of the finals. The central defender is having a scan and a decision will be made once the results are known.
"The first thing I saw this morning when I woke up was the list of seven players injured or suspended," Terim said. "Some of them will have scans today and we will know more then about their condition."
Turkey's captain, Emre Belozoglu, has been sidelined with a hamstring problem since the opening defeat by Portugal and his midfield partner Tumer Metin has a groin strain. Both are likely to miss the Croatia match while the central defensive pair Servet Cetin and Gokhan Zan are also struggling.
The defensive midfielder Mehmet Aurelio is also suspended after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament. Terim said the 2002 World Cup hero Rustu Recber would replace Volkan in goal.Reuse content