This was a cauldron of noise throughout and at the end a Turkey victory delighted Northern Ireland as it confirmed a place in the knockout stage on their debut at a European championship.
This is some achievement from Michael O’Neill’s team and, while they must wait until Wednesday night to know who their opponents will be, they will hardly care.
Turkey could also progress if results go their way in the remaining four group matches. If they qualify they will face Wales on Saturday in Paris and Fatih Terim is confident his team would go through.
“I believe we will advance – 80, 90%. If we progress we will play Wales, but let’s advance first,” said the Turkey coach.
If so, Chris Coleman’s side should beware, Terim warned, as he is confident Turkey can emulate the side he coached eight years ago to the semi-finals of the European championship.
“If we advance, we can do what we did in Euro 2008 because our confidence is growing now,” he said. “Now we’ve got our team spirit back. If we advance, I think we have a long way to go.”
Before the anthems were sung a flare went off behind the goal Turkey attacked in the first half and there was a commodity rare at this rain-plagued tournament: sunshine. This lit up the late Lens evening in the same manner as the opener that was created after 10 minutes. Turkey’s fans considerably outnumbered their counterparts and were delighted as Burak Yilmaz made a clever run into the area, where he produced a sweet first-time finish to Emre Mor’s cross.
The goal may have delighted Turkey supporters but moments later the Czech Republic came close to an equaliser. From a corner Tomas Sivok rose to head against Volkan Babacan’s right post.
This final Group D match was being contested in a fever-pitch atmosphere that gave it the feel of a late-game goal chase with only seconds remaining. One moment Mor was drawing a foul from Pavel Kaderabek and Selcuk Inan was hitting the wall from the free-kick, the next Kaderabek was in on Babacan’s goal and firing in a shot that was deflected wide for a corner.
The Czechs best moment of the first half came from Jaroslav Plasil. He took the ball in a central area and fired a shot at Babacan that dipped and ended with the goalkeeper lucky to make a two-handed save. By the time William Collum blew for the interval the referee had officiated a period of low technical quality but higher in entertainment.
This had become a lovely mid-summer’s night decorated by a long, orange-streaked sunset and Turkey boosted their chances of not having to ride off into it and out of the tournament with this win. However, a 4-0 victory – so two more goals – would have guaranteed a knockout place and not left them facing a tense wait until late on Wednesday to discover their fate.
If this match does prove their last at Euro 2016, they will certainly have gone down fighting. The way Hakan Balta scythed down Necid took the sentiment too literally. He was booked and moments later Gokhan Gonul clashed heads with Sivok, though this was an accident.
The next in this catalogue of spills was Babacan, though the way he punched at a cross he could easily have caught was more a calamity. His next save was genuinely required as he dived low to deny Necid’s low skimmer.
But then Turkey doubled the lead against the run of play. The ball was laid back for Ozan Tufan and he smacked a pile-driver past Petr Cech.
Reflecting on being knocked out Pavel Vrba, the Czech coach, said: “We know Turkey very well, we met them in the qualifiers, winning and losing one. Unfortunately we lost [tonight]. This was not a good result for us.”
Turkey’s second goal was greeted with the setting off of three or four more flares behind the same goal as the one before kick-off and moved Arda Turan and Gonul to run towards the delirious Turkey fans there to implore them to stop, while a steward was also seen taking one out.
Turkey, meanwhile, pressed for the two more goals required to seal qualification. It proved beyond them. Now, though, is the time for Northern Ireland to celebrate.
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