Souček strikes, but it’s Czech-out time in Hamburg

Turkey sealed their place in the last 16 of the 2024 UEFA European Championship with a hard-fought 2-1 win against a gutsy, 10-man Czech Republic side who exit the competition without a group stage victory for only the second time in their history.

Ivan Hašek’s side knew that only a win would see them progress from Group F yet, when Khvicha Kvaratskhelia gave Georgia a shock lead in the other match against Portugal, the Czechs were suddenly propping up the table. With the threat of an early flight home looming large, they looked to strike early against their familiar foes, having tasted defeat against the same opposition at Euro 2008 and Euro 2016.

Lukáš Provod tried his luck with a stinging long-range effort, which was parried to safety by Mert Günok. That direct approach caused problems for the Crescent Stars, as Robin Hranáč headed over the bar after Tomáš Souček flicked on Vladimír Coufal’s long throw-in. However, all of that positive play was undone when referee István Kovács harshly decided to issue Antonín Barák a second yellow card for a largely innocuous challenge on Salih Özcan.

This understandably stemmed the Czechs’ flow, and Turkey pressed forward with more intensity. Teenage starlet Arda Güler has a propensity for the spectacular, and looked to provide another goal for the showreel when he met Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s cross with an acrobatic strike that flashed just wide of the post. Despite the one-man disadvantage, David Jurásek’s angled attempt was pushed away by Günok to give Hašek’s men room for optimism at HT.

That quickly dissipated after the restart though when Çalhanoğlu broke the deadlock in the 51st minute. Barış Alper Yılmaz exploited space down the right flank and picked out Kenan Yıldız, whose shot was superbly saved by Jindřich Staněk before the ball found its way to the Inter Milan man to fire a wonderful drilled effort into the far corner. But the Czechs restored parity with a goal which Günok will not want to view back after dropping a routine catch while under pressure from Tomáš Chorý, allowing Souček to rifle home the loose ball.

Ultimately, though, the strike merely proved to be a consolation for Hašek’s plucky team, and Cenk Tosun inflicted more misery upon them in stoppage time with a clinical right-footed shot which he buried into the bottom corner. It was heartbreaking for the Czechs, who deserved more than a fourth-place finish. Meanwhile, Vincenzo Montella’s side secured second spot in the group to set up a clash against Austria next Tuesday in Leipzig.

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