Turkey captain Nihat Kahveci admitted it was an “unbelievable feeling” to see his team recover from a two-goal deficit to earn a last-gasp 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in a Group A thriller in Geneva.
The Villarreal striker grabbed a sensational double in the final four minutes to complete a memorable comeback by the Turks, who finished second in their pool and now face Croatia in a quarter-final tie in Vienna on Friday.
The recovery was sparked when Arda Turan halved the deficit in the 75th minute but nothing could have prepared his side for what was to follow.
Nihat, whose first goal came after a ghastly handling error by Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, said: “Up until we went 2-0 down, we didn’t play well but we didn’t give up.
“The first goal was the key, the turning point, and it created concern within the Czechs.
“I managed to make the most of the mistake by their keeper to score the second and then I got the third.
“You don’t get many games like this in tournaments like these and the feeling was enormous to see the ball hit the back of the net.
“To see that goal qualify us for the quarter-final is an unbelievable feeling. We are so happy we did it.”
The Czechs looked home and dry in the 61st minute when Jaroslav Plasil added to Jan Koller’s first-half opener to put his team 2-0 ahead.
But the Turks’ never-say-die attitude enabled them to mount an unlikely recovery in the pouring rain at the Stade de Geneve.
And coach Fatih Terim claimed he always had faith in his side’s ability to respond.
“I am very pleased to have a team that doesn’t give up, that doesn’t stop until the referee blows the final whistle,” said Terim, whose goalkeeper Volkan Demirel had time to get himself sent off in the dying seconds for an off-the-ball incident.
“I have said all the time that we would go to the very end.
“In my career, I have never thought of giving up. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had lost 2-0 or 4-0.
“I have seen many things happen in the last minutes of games, for and against me.
“I am aware of what we can deliver but my team likes to create excitement at the end of matches.”
Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner admitted his side’s defending was not up to scratch in that sensational final quarter of an hour.
“After our second goal, we controlled the game and we had several chances to decide the match,” said Bruckner, who saw Jan Polak hit the post as his team looked to grab a third.
“But then Turkey scored, we had problems on the left side and we surrendered to the Turks.
“We simply didn’t manage to defend our box and it was not possible to get away with defending like that.
“For the second goal, there was a mistake but mistakes like those happen. But the third goal was an error.
“To lose such a match like that is incredible. We simply had to face up to the pressure and defend.
“We had to deal with it, and play on the counter-attack. The key was not to surrender.”
Bruckner, who will step down from the post after seven years in charge, was asked how long it would take for him to recover from the defeat.
“Very many nights,” said the 68-year-old, whose team lost to Turkey for the first time in 12 meetings.