Monday, June 16, 2008

Games 15-18: Wacky Weekend

Spain's electric finish in Saturday's early match set the tone for a weekend of drama at the European Championships. With David Villa's 90th minute clincher Spain was basically assured a pass into the quarter finals, and Sweden was absolutely shocked to have let in such a late goal, the defense is to be blamed for that meltdown.

The late game on Saturday offered a little less in the way of drama, but it was still a close match with Russia and Greece each needing a win to keep their tournaments alive. Greece never really looked too dangerous, and Russia was able to protect their 1-o lead after a Konstatin Zurianov goal in the 33rd minute. Greece crashed out of the tournament without scoring a goal in their opening two matches, the defending European champions are the first team to lose their opening matches after winning the previous championship, and the Greek side was surely the poorest performer we've seen so far. Russia controls their own destiny in their final match against Sweden, win and they're through to the quarters.

Sunday marked the beginning of the end for half the field, the 3rd round of the group stage kicked off with a bang, with matches being played simultaneously to avoid any chance of thrown or fixed games (see Italian soccer for further explanation). The Portugal-Switzerland match was a throw away game for both sides since Portugal had already won the group, and Switzerland were already eliminated. The Swiss were able to beat a Portugal side who was resting 8 of their 11 starters from the first two matches 2-0, giving their home fans a chance to exit on a somewhat positive note.

While the Portuguese-Swiss match was rather dull and had no direct impact on the tournament, the Turkey-Czech Republic game was a winner-take-all, drama-filled, 90 minutes of shear brilliance, action packed event. The Turks have now been involved in the two best games of the tournament, even though in their last two matches they looked to be defeated and left for dead. For the first hour of the match the Czech Republic looked well on their way to the next round, Jan Koller had scored in the 34th minute, and looked confident and dangerous the entire match. Osasuna midfielder Jaroslav Plasil looked to have put the final nail in the Turks coffin in the 63rd minute putting the Czechs up 2-0 with under 30 minutes to play. In the 75th minute Arda Turan breathed new life into Turkey knocking home a cross from Sabri and past a helpless Petr Cech. Then in the 87th minute the unthinkable happened, on a routine, unpressured cross from out wide, Petr Cech jumped and the ball sailed through his hand into the path of an unmarked and partially flabbergasted Nihat Karvachi, who easily tapped the equalizer into the back of the net, and the entire city of Geneva erupted with disbelief and pure joy depending on what color kit you were supporting. The top goalkeeper in the world just allowed the softest goal of the tournament past him, and it looked as though we'd see a Euro championship first, a PK shoot-out to break the draw. The Turks continued to push on as the Czechs were still in shock of the last goal, and Nihat Karvachi beat the offside trap and scored the game-winner in ultimate style bending in a perfect strike into the upper 90, in the 90th minute of the match.

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