Euro 2024: Turkish rock football betters Austrian jazz in ‘Mad Max’ clash

Certainty is hard to ascertain in football, as in life. But it is damn near certain that the Round of 16 game between Austria and Turkey will end up as the best encounter of Euro 2024, even with seven blockbuster games left in the tournament.

In a game so frantic that it would have put the Mad Max movie franchise to shame, the thrill-a-minute Turkish rock football bettered the almost-always-in-sync Austrian jazz.

It is quite an irony that in a game of incredible technical quality — played between two teams drilled to play rabidly calculated football — no goals were scored from open play.

In fact, it was the first recorded Euro game to witness three corner goals.

Austria began the game just how everyone expected it to. The kick-off sparked a blinding charge forward, resulting in a shot on the Turkish goal. But the tide instantly changed as Turkey ravaged upfield, winning a corner and ensuing a goal-mouth scramble. Central defender Merih Demiral, who had two international goals before the night, thumped in the first of his brace, ensuing a Turkish eruption at the Red Bull arena.

All this inside a minute. A minute that had more action squeezed into it than games involving more heralded teams this Euros. Yes England, no point hiding now.

It was unlikely, or rather humanly impossible, for the game to have continued at that pace. With the lead in the bank, Turkey slowed down settling into a low block, relying on the genius of midfielder Arda Guler to break forward when chances came.


The Austrians regrouped, zipping and zapping the ball through well-coordinated passing channels. They harangued the opponents when without the ball like a pack of wolves.

Coach Ralf Rangnick shuffled his pack with the dexterity of a Las Vegas casino dealer. Wingers Marcel Sabitzer and Christoph Baumgartner swapped positions constantly. Wingbacks Stefan Posch and Philipp Mwene thundered forward at every given opportunity.

Rangnick’s system worked just fine, except when applying the finishing touch.

Austria dominated the game in almost all attacking parameters, except for the one that really mattered. It had greater possession and more shots, resulting in an expected goal tally (xG) three times more than Turkey (3.16 to 0.92).

But Turkey’s resolve and defensive discipline for the night was too much for the Austrian machine to overcome.

ALSO READ | Euro 2024, round of 16: Who is Merih Demiral, the Turkish goalscoring hero in Austria vs Turkiye?

Austria did have its chances. Baumgartner was at fault for fluffing two clear-cut ones. The first came in the first half when he inexplicably failed to score from point-blank range at the far post following a low, driven corner.

The second — and the most defining — came in the game’s final seconds when Baumgartner headed a cross from the left flank downward and goal-bound. Turkish goalkeeper Fehmi Gunok, who had earlier denied Marko Arnatuovic from a one-on-one position, clawed the ball away from the goal line with a low, diving save to his right. A distraught Rangnick would soon compare it to the iconic Gordon Banks save.

Turkey’s Mert Gunok saves the headed shot of Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner during the Euro 2024 round of 16 match.

Turkey’s Mert Gunok saves the headed shot of Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner during the Euro 2024 round of 16 match.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images


Turkey’s Mert Gunok saves the headed shot of Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner during the Euro 2024 round of 16 match.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

The Turkish resistance was led admirably by Guler, in the absence of the suspended midfield mainstay Hakan Calhanoglu. The 19-year-old Real Madrid starlet ran the game from the centre of the park with tenacity, never shying away from a challenge, often demanding better from his compatriots.

Deservingly, it was Guler who set up Turkey’s and Demiral’s second with a wicked swinging corner early in the second half.

Austria did manage to get on the scoresheet — courtesy of a Michael Gregoritsch header after a corner was flicked into the box. It eventually whittled down as a consolation goal as Turkey scrapped and scurried its way to a fourth quarterfinal appearance in a major tournament.

As the final whistle blew, players from both sides collapsed en masse. The exhaustion of playing a football game of such break-neck intensity that it could possibly live beyond the tournament can do that to anyone. Certainly.

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