Over the last several days, a series of flat 0-0 draws in marquee games on the field – paired with incessant fan misbehavior off the field – considerably deflated the mood surrounding the 2016 European Championships in France.
Concerns over security, the format allowing progression for four third-placed teams, and an almost-bizarre lack of goal-scoring drama left the tournament in dire need of a shakeup.
And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what it got.
Vicente del Bosque, perhaps mindful of the reception granted Roy Hodgson after his rotated England team, failed to beat Slovakia yesterday, named an unchanged eleven for the Spanish – who needed just a point against Croatia to win the group.
Spain started well enough – Alvaro Morata giving them the lead less than ten minutes in – but Croatia, missing Luka Modric through injury and resting Mario Mandzukic, didn’t fold.
They were level just before halftime through Nikola Kalinic, still in the game after Danijel Subasic – with the aid of a head start off the line and a tip from Modric – saved Sergio Ramos’ penalty, and moved to ecstasy when Ivan Perisic’s classic counter-attacking goal won the game in the final minutes.
Turkey, full of personality, came good when it absolutely had to – the country’s legendary flair for the dramatic rekindled by the prospect of another group finale against the Czech Republic.
Eight years ago, the Turks and Czechs combined for one of the great games in the history of this competition – with Turkey storming back from two goals down in the second half to win 3-2 in extra time and secure progression to the quarterfinal.
This time around, the indomitable Fatih Terim’s team was driven by several key figures. Arda Turan silenced his critics with a mature display; likewise striker Burak Yilmaz with a performance full of passion.
But Terim’s biggest call was handing a first start of the tournament to year-old Emre Mor, who standing at 5’6, looks like one of the biggest talents we’ve seen yet in this competition.
With Turkey, the prayer is often the expectation – most often with the expectation is the prayer. This team is probably going through, and will be an extremely dangerous prospect in the next round.
Both games carried with them huge ramifications for teams both directly and indirectly involved.