Türkiye’s Wild EURO 2024 Ride

While we’ve come to expect chaos from major international tournaments, no team at EURO 2024 has embraced it like Türkiye, whose matches often resembled a chase scene from the Mad Max series, but on a football pitch. 

Chaos has become somewhat of a norm in major international tournaments. High stakes, national pride on the line, and a less tactical approach to the game all make for a frantic and unpredictable feel that is in stark contrast to the extremely curated and precise nature of elite club football.

“Get the ball to the big man” has become the go-to strategy for many national teams in continental and global tournaments, and the lack of structure has given us wild and magical finishes.

But no team has quite embodied chaos like Türkiye at EURO 2024.

The popular dark horse pick for the previous installment of the tournament in 2021, Türkiye ended up being a massive disappointment, losing all three group stage matches and scoring just one goal in the process. Three years later, they’d become must-see TV.

Türkiye kicked things off with an absolute scorcher of a match against Georgia, which finished 3-1 in favor of the Turks but was really anyone’s match from start to finish. Agonizing near misses from both sides were complemented by world-class goals from Mürt Müldür and Arda Güler of Türkiye and Georges Mikautadze of Georgia. An extra-time breakaway score from Kerem Aktürkoğlu on an open net sealed the deal for Türkiye, who really set the tone for what was to come.

If their opening group stage match was an apertif, Türkiye’s final one against Czechia was like mainlining a bottle of 190 proof Everclear.

Physical, gritty, at times sloppy, at times brilliant. Everything Türkiye would prove to be at EURO 2024 was on display in this match, which saw Czechia play down a man for nearly the entirety after Antonín Barák picked up his second yellow card in just 20 minutes. Eighteen total yellow cards would be issued throughout the match, which featured some questionable refereeing and a finish that was rife with desperation from both sides. A Cenk Tosun stoppage time winner would put the Turks on top and send them through to the knockouts.

With the stakes as high as they can get, win-or-go-home matches reward teams that thrive in chaos. Despite not being a traditional world power, Türkiye was a side no one wanted to line up against, something Austria found out quickly in the round of 16. It took Merih Demiral just 56 seconds to score an opener, and he completed his brace 58 minutes later to give the Turks a 2-0 cushion.

Austria wouldn’t go away however, and a Michael Gregoritsch score in 66th set up an end-to-end finish that you could hardly avert your eyes from. The final 20 minutes of the match turned into a track meet, with both sides going full throttle and giving us end-to-end action in the most chaotic way imaginable. It was like a chase scene from the Mad Max series, only on a football pitch.

Things reached a peak in the final minute, when Mert Günok made the save of the tournament off an open header from Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner. It was unbelievable to watch in real time, and somehow has gotten even more impressive to watch on replay.

A quarterfinal showdown against the Netherlands would end Türkiye’s run, and ironically, it was chaos in favor of the Dutch that got them the win. Down 1-0 in the 70th minute, Stefan De Vrij headed in an equalizer, and just six minutes later, a dangerous ball between Cody Gakpo and Müldür that would later be ruled as a Müldür own goal would give the Netherlands the lead.

The Turks wouldn’t go quietly, and had several near misses that included a wonderful save from Dutch keeper Bart Verbruggen and a few last gasp blocks from the Oranje back line.

It was a devastating loss for Türkiye, who were built perfectly for a deep run in a tournament like this, especially with traditional giants like France and England struggling to generate any sort of offense. They won’t go home totally disappointed however, as it was the furthest they’d reached at a EURO since 2008, where a trip to the semis represented their best-ever finish.

Crunching tackles, contorting saves, and unquestioned effort made Türkiye such a pleasure to watch throughout the tournament. The nation certainly fielded a talented roster, but it was the players’ grit and determination that brought them inches away from a spot in the semifinals. It may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing brand of football, but it was the beautiful game in peak form.

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