Turkey beat underdogs Austria in last 16 win

LEIPZIG – Turkey on Tuesday managed to dethrone Austria as the outsider in a thrilling round of 16 of the 2024 European Championship, sparking celebrations in Turkish communities around the world, including Toronto.

Merih Demiral scored both goals in the 2-1 victory, which gave Turkish fans hope of another long run of European Championship titles after their narrow 3-2 semi-final defeat in 2008. However, powerhouse Netherlands, who beat Romania 3-0 in the round of 16 on Tuesday, stand in their way. Demiral’s two goals came from corner kicks by Arda Guler.

A hail of bottles and cups rained down on the feet of the 19-year-old Real Madrid midfielder as he prepared to take the second corner and after the goal Guler turned to the Austrian fans and pointed an icily finger at his ear. On a night when Turkey captain Hakan Calhanoglu was missing through suspension, Guler’s fearlessness was remarkable. His sliding pass set up the corner that led to Demiral’s first goal before the game was a minute old. At 57 seconds, it was the fastest goal in a knockout match at the European Championships. Guler, one of Europe’s brightest young stars and the first Turkish player to lift the Champions League trophy last season, was Turkey’s quarterback all night and almost scored with a brazen 50-yard shot that deflected the Austria keeper well off his mark.

“He worked for the team and ran like I’ve never seen him run in his career,” said Turkish manager Vincenzo Montella. “We still know he needs to mature physically, especially considering his young age, so I compliment him.”

Turkish goalkeeper Mert Gunok put an exclamation mark on the full-throttle evening with one of the tournament’s best saves, using lightning-quick reflexes to clear Christoph Baumgartner’s header that looked destined for the net. Austrian forward Michael Gregoritsch described it as one of the best saves he had ever seen. “You have to give the Turkish goalkeeper credit because I think it was extremely difficult to stop. Unbelievable, really,” Gregoritsch said.

Austria coach Ralf Rangnick was asked if the save reminded him of England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ famous save to stop Pele at the 1970 World Cup. “That’s true,” he replied, adding that if the ball had gone in, his team would have won. “(But) with Gordon Banks in goal, that was the last chance we had.”

The atmosphere in Leipzig’s stadium was electric on Tuesday. Turkey’s matches were played as home games in Germany, home to an estimated three million people of Turkish descent. Tuesday’s match was the only one in the round of 16 not to be broadcast on free TV in Germany, sparking outrage among Turkish fans.

Turkey, a team that always goes into major tournaments with high expectations and then loses narrowly, has been eliminated in the group stage of the European Championship for the third time. On Saturday they will play the quarter-finals against the Netherlands in Berlin.

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