The three Turkish players who sat a university entrance exam on the morning of this game will never forget yesterday, whether they pass or fail. Their team scored two goals and had their goalkeeper sent off in the most astonishing five minutes of this eventful Euro 2008 to steal a quarter-final place against Croatia from a stunned Czech Republic, who led 2-0 with quarter of an hour to play. Chelsea's Petr Cech made probably his worst mistake of the season to concede an equaliser in the 88th minute to Nihat Kahveci, who then beat him in the last minute for the winning goal.
That climaxed a remarkable recovery by the Turks, who had been outplayed throughout the first half, when the 6ft 7in Jan Koller terrorised them in the air. Supported well by Reading's Marek Matejovsky, who then had to go off injured, Koller headed his 55th goal in 90 internationals and Jaroslav Plasil added a second. The Czechs even hit a post before a revival inspired by Middlesbrough's Tuncay Sanli and abetted by Cech, who dropped a routine cross at Nihat's feet.
It will have been no consolation whatever to him that Cech did not have to face the first penalty shoot-out to decide a group match in either a European Championship or World Cup. That would have been the case in the event of a draw, when both sides would have been equal in every respect. It was a ghastly way to go for the veteran Czech coach Karel Bruckner, who was always going to bow out when his team did, but must have hoped to last until the weekend at least. "We had chances to decide the game but we had problems on the left of our defence," he said. "But to lose such a match was incredible."
His opposite number Fatih Terim tried to sound as if this sort of thing happens all the time, but in reality was equally incredulous. "I've seen many things happen in the last minute," he said. "That's the beauty of the game we call football. I'm very pleased to have a team that doesn't give up."
They briefly appeared to have done so midway through the second half. At one-nil down, central defender Emre Gungor went off injured and before Turkey could bring on a substitute, Koller was allowed clean through a gaping gap down the middle to shoot wide and then Plasil arrived to meet Libor Sionko's fine cross with an equally impressive finish. Terim berated the assistant referee for not having allowed the substitute Emre Asik on, but it was poor concentration by the remaining defenders.
A third goal almost arrived in the 65th minute as the outstanding Sionko, a Rangers player the season before last, crossed for Jan Polak to shoot against a post. That would have killed the game but Turkey somehow kept it alive and then, amazingly, won it. In the 75th minute Arda Turan drove in Hamit Altintop's cross; then Cech's howler from a high centre by the same player in the 87th minute gave Nihat the equaliser and the Turkish captain claimed his second goal by running onto Tuncay's pass, just onside.
There was still time for the volatile goalkeeper Volkan Demirel to be sent off for pushing Koller over, forcing Tuncay to finish the match with the keeper's jersey on – grateful that there was no shoot-out. Volkan will miss the quarter final in Vienna on Friday, as will Mehmet Aurelio, who received a second yellow card of the tournament during the first few minutes, in which the Czechs, semi-finalists in 2004, were soon dominant.
Koller returned in place of Milan Baros, and inevitably became the focal point of their attacks, to far better effect than in his first game against Switzerland. The pattern was set in the first ten seconds, when he was able to nod down a long ball for Matejovsky, who drove it wide. A classic Czech move midway through the first half best illustrated the tactics, Koller chesting a pass to Matejovsky, whose pass allowed Sionko to cut inside and send a shot over the bar.
Both Czech full-backs were also adept at putting over good crosses. So it was not entirely a surprise when the tallest man in the tournament headed his team into the lead. Matejovsky made his last notable contribution by feeding the right-back Zdenek Grygera, whose fine centre was met at full stretch – which is quite a stretch – by the straining Koller. Volkan got a hand to the ball but could only push it onto the bar and in.
Terim made a shrewd change at half-time, taking off the ineffectual Semih Senturk and moving Tuncay, who had been stranded out on the wing, into the centre of midfield. His header gave Cech a first save of the game after 56 minutes. But the real drama would come much later on.
Turkey (4-4-2): Volkan (Fenerbahce); Hamit Altintop (Bayern Munich), Emre Gungor, Servet, Hakan Balta (all Galatasaray); Tuncay (Middlesbrough), Mehmet Aurelio (Fenerbahce), Mehmet Topal (Galatasaray), Arda Turan (Galatasary); Nihat (Villareal), Semih Senturk (Fenerbahce). Substitutes used: Sarioglu (Galatasary) for Senturk, h-t; Kazim-Richards (Fenerbache) for Mehmet Topal, 57; Emre Asik (Galatasaray) for Emre Gungor, 65.
Czech Republic (4-3-2-1): Cech (Chelsea); Grygera (Juventus), Ujfalusi (Fiorentina), Rozehnal (Lazio), Jankulovski (Milan); Matejovsky (Reading), Galasek (Nuremberg), Polak (Anderlecht); Sionko (Copenhagen), Plasil (Osasuna); Koller (Nuremberg). Substitutes used: Jarolim (Hamburg) for Matejovsky, 37; Kadlec (Sparta Prague) for Plasil, 80; Vlcek (Anderlecht) for Sionko, 84.
Referee: P Frojdfeldt (Sweden).
Booked: Turkey Mehmet Topal, Mehmet Aurelio, Turan, Emre Asik; Czech Republic Galasek, Ujfalusi.
Sent off: Turkey Volkan (90).
Man of the match: Sionko.