Euro 2008 – Turkey pull off astonishing comeback
The Turkish captain scored in the 87th and 89th minutes of an extraordinary encounter as Fatih Terim’s side came back from 2-0 down to seal a tie against Croatia in the last eight.
Turkey looked out of contention as the game entered its 75th minutes, with the Czechs two goals to the good and looking comfortable.
They led through a first-half header from the excellent Koller and a 62nd-minute Jaroslav Plasil goal in a winner-takes-all encounter.
Arda Turan pulled one back with a low strike to set up a frantic finale, and when Nihat equalised it looked as if a group stage game would be settled on penalties for the first time in a major tournament.
But spot-kicks were not required as Nihat got behind the Ceach defence and left Cech helpless with a stunning 25-yard curler that bounced in off the underside of the bar.
Czech coach Karel Bruckner opted to use Koller as a lone striker, consigning Milan Baros and Vaclav Sverkos to the bench. It might have looked negative on paper, but brought immediate returns on the pitch.
The six-foot-seven veteran proved a wonderful target for the Czechs’ direct passing, knocking the ball down for the attacking midfield duo of Jaroslav Plasil, Libor Sionko.
With five men across the midfield, the Czechs controlled the game, forcing Turkey to concede free-kicks from which they could target the reliable Koller.
Marek Matejovsky had a shot on target before being taken off injured in the first half, but the breakthrough inevitably came from Koller.
On 34 minutes Overlapping right-back Zdenek Grygera had time and space to measure his cross into the danger area, where Sionko was waiting with Koller.
The giant 35-year-old did not have to leave his feet, but instead twisted his neck and directed a powerful header past Volkan Demirel, who got a glove to the ball but could not keep it out.
Euro 2008 has been a tournament for the older gentleman, already featuring the three oldest scorers in European Championship history.
The 39-year-old Ivica Vastic of Austria leads the way ahead of Koller and Italy’s Christian Panucci, also 35.
With 55 goals from 90 caps, Koller is by far his country’s top scorer since its inception in 1993. The game signalled his retirement from international football, and he will certainly be missed.
The only time he was found wanting came just after the hour mark when he improbably broke through the Turkish offside trap and trundled painstakingly towards goal before dragging his shot wide.
Tuncay, moved from the wing into a more central attacking role, twice went close with headers while Arda finally stretched his legs with direct, pacy runs at the Czech defence.
The pressure intensified with the introduction of the English-born Colin Kazim-Richards, who immediately peppered the Czech box with crosses.
The Turkish revival looked in vain when Plasil converted Sionko’s cross to put the Czechs two up, and Jan Polak could have made it three when he hit the woodwork from a Plasil cross.
He could hardly have imagined his miss would prove so costly as Turkey produced a near-miraculous comeback to take this wonderful tournament to new heights.