The chaos of Austria vs Turkey: Part Bundesliga, part South America, part lower-league

The eighth and final Euro 2024 last-16 tie did not feel like a European Championship match at all.

In a horrendous downpour in Leipzig, which exaggerated the slide tackles and added to the chaos, Turkey and Austria played out a game on Tuesday night that was a world away from the static, cautious tactical battle between France and Belgium the previous afternoon.

It was, at times, barely international-football quality.

This felt like three separate games from three separate settings.

The opening to the game was like something from the German Bundesliga.

There were frantic turnovers every minute. There was a proper atmosphere courtesy of both the Austria supporters (who make noise in unusual ways, like giving it the ‘Oooooh’ that lots of fans do at opposition goal kicks for their own side’s corners) and the Turkish ones. The huge number of Turks living in Germany has made them almost the secondary ‘home’ side in this tournament, obvious in cities throughout the country whenever they’re playing, but never clearer than at the actual matches.

Both sets of supporters let themselves down in the second half by throwing objects onto the pitch — a coin from the Turkish end struck Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer on the head — but for the most part this was a brilliant football atmosphere.

Turkey’s Arda Guler was pelted with cups thrown from the stands (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Then there was a period where this felt like a South American game.

Austria, supposedly the masters of pressing, barely offered any intensity for much of the second half, despite an unusually cold July day seemingly being conducive to frantic chasing about. At 1-0 up, Turkey were allowed time on the ball in defence. They were capable of knocking simple passes around in midfield without being closed down.

In Arda Guler, previously deployed from the right but fielded here as something between a false nine and a classic No 10, they had a diminutive, crafty central attacker who was capable of relieving the pressure by dribbling past a couple of opponents and holding onto the ball. Guler spent much of the game frustrated with his team-mates, beckoning them forward to close down, despite not doing much closing down himself, like a playmaker from a bygone era.

And then there were periods where this felt like a lower-league game.

The first goal came from a corner that was deflected into the path of a centre-back, Merih Demiral, who smashed it home. The second went straight onto the head of the same player, who headed in. And then Austria’s reply came from a corner flicked on by 6ft 2in (188cm) defender Stefan Posch and turned in by Michael Gregoritsch, an even taller (6ft 4in) backup striker who had been summoned from the bench at half-time as Austria went more direct than they already were.

The actual standard of football, it must be said, was often atrocious. In the first half, Austria made a string of completely unforced errors in possession. But in the second, they dominated the game almost automatically because Turkey, as they have a habit of doing, completely lost their heads. They approached the final half-hour like it was the game’s final five minutes, making no attempt to hold onto possession to move up the pitch, or offering any kind of cohesive counter-attacking.

At one point, Baris Alper Yilmaz broke into the box, strode towards the byline and then played a cutback… only to find no Turkey player within 20 yards of him, such was their contentment with sitting deep and defending.

There was a strange moment in second-half stoppage time when Turkey won a throw-in down the right, an obvious moment to waste a bit of time. But midfielder Okay Yokuslu went haring up the pitch in search of a forward throw which obviously never came, then found himself out of position and seemed to strain a muscle running back towards his own goal. Turkey completely failed to manage the game.

Then came one of the moments of the tournament.

With four minutes of stoppage time still to play, and with exactly 94:00 on the clock, Mert Gunok made a stunning save that instantly made you think of both Peter Schmeichel and Gordon Banks. The move that led to it was absolutely typical of the second half: a cross from the right was headed clear, then a cross from the left was nodded towards goal.

RB Leipzig’s Christoph Baumgartner, playing at his club’s home stadium, then did everything right — heading the ball down and back where it came from — and yet Gunok, seemingly moving in the wrong direction, not only judged the bounce and reached the ball, but also shovelled it around the post and out for a corner. It was a game that deserved extra time, but that save was an equally fitting ending.



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Mert Gunok’s incredible save kept the tie from going to extra time (Ralf Ibing – Firo Sportphoto/Getty Images)

Austria, for all the plaudits about their improvement in the past couple of years, exit the Euros at the same stage as in the tournament’s previous playing three years ago — when they put up a serious fight before going down 2-1, after extra time, to Italy, the eventual champions.

It seems unlikely they have fallen to the eventual winners again this time.

Turkey are highly entertaining (appearing in two of The Athletic’s three best games of Euro 2024, so far), fiery and emotional, but their complete lack of tactical intelligence was impossible to ignore. They had only six shots last night and conceded 21, a pattern you’d roughly expect, considering they were leading from the first minute of the game until the last. But really, all they offered here was the ability of their centre-backs in the penalty box — twice in the opposition area, seemingly 100 times in their own.

But this was what this tournament needed.

The second round started well, before some slow-burn matches prompted muttering about the lack of entertainment value at these Euros.

This is the weaker half of the last-16 draw, so it might as well be good fun. And this was very good fun.



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(Top photo: Emin Sansar/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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