Geneva:Nihat Kahveci has been in the a habit of scoring decisive goals for Turkey. No Turkish fans in their wildest dreams could have been prepared for what happened on Sunday, though.
The Villarreal striker scored two goals in three minutes late in the match against the Czech Republic to finish off an incredible comeback and give Turkey a 3-2 win and a spot in the European Championship quarterfinals.
Nihat profited from an unlikely blunder from Petr Cech, one of the world's greatest goalkeepers, who fumbled a simple cross in the 87th minute. With the game seemingly heading for a penalty shootout, the Czech defense fell apart and Nihat scored the decider with a precise inside-foot shot that bounced off the bar and into the goal two minutes later.
"Seeing the ball in the nets and knowing that the goal was bringing a win and the quarterfinals, it was an unbelievable feeling," Nihat said.
He should have grown used to it though. He scored the winning goals in the two decisive qualifying games that sent Turkey to Euro 2008. On Sunday, he gave Turkey its biggest victory since reaching the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.
And with his double strike, he finally took over the mantle of Turkey's best striker from Hakan Sukur, who was not picked for the team.
Cech took the blame for the stunning demise of his team.
"It was my mistake that decided that we have to go home," the Chelsea goalkeeper said.
Jan Koller had given the Czechs the lead in the 34th, and Jaroslav Plasil added another in the 62nd. Arda Turan started the comeback for the Turks in the 75th by finishing off a sweeping move with a low drive that Cech could only deflect off his post and past the line.
Turkey goalkeeper Volkan Demirel was red-carded in injury time for knocking down Koller, and will miss the team's quarterfinal match against Croatia on Friday in Vienna. Midfielder Tuncay Sanli replaced Demirel in goal for the final seconds.
"The Turkish national team is in the top eight. Hopefully it will get only better from now on," Turkey coach Fatih Terim said.
"I'm proud that I have players who know that the match ends with the referee's whistle. We showed to the whole world what kind of a team we are," Terim added. "We had said that we came here to go until the end. We are working to make that goal come true."
The Czechs scored in the 34th when defender Zdenek Grygera crossed into the area for Koller. Even though the towering forward had to lean his 2.01-meter (6-foot-7) frame backward, he still got enough power and precision on the header to send it to the upper right corner for his 55th goal in 90 internationals.
If that is impressive, Nihad had already scored the decider in both of Turkey's last qualifying games, two matches they had to win to get to Switzerland. His late double will only add to his aura as Turkey's life saver.
"There was a Turkish national team on the field that fought until the end of the game," he said.
The Czechs took a 2-0 lead in the 62nd under a steady rain when Libor Sionko sent a low cross into the area and Plasil threw his whole body sliding into the ball. For the second time Demirel got a touch of the ball, but not enough to keep it out.
Turkey, facing elimination in its last game when it was down 1-0 against Switzerland, rallied in a driving rain and an injury-time goal to set up the clash against the Czechs. On Sunday, the comeback was even bigger.
At the end of the match, the 10,000 Turkish fans in the crowd of 30,000 at the Stade de Geneve went into a delirium while Cech took off his black headgear and kicked it away in frustration.
"The third goal was nothing but a collapse. I can't explain that," Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner said.
Turkey was outplayed until the late stages in the match and was lucky the result was not worse after the Jan Polak sent a half-volley onto the post in the 71st minute that surely would have put the game away.
"Until the second half, it seemed like the Czechs would easily win," Terim said.
In the first half, the Turks were dangerous on just one corner, but were constantly frustrated by the Czech defense. Soon, the Turks started passing to each other as long as possible in defense, just hoping to draw out the Czech team and wait for time to pass with a penalty shootout to come.
Much had been made of the inclusion of Semih Senturk alongside Nihat in attack. Called Turkey's super sub, Senturk was the top scorer in the Turkish league this season despite only starting half the games. Underscoring Turkey's dismal first-half performance, he was replaced at halftime.
As soon as the second half started, the rain started coming down. And after its come-from-behind waterlogged win over Switzerland, it inspired the Turks.
Suddenly, Bruckner started gesticulating wildly to his players not to get buried in defense, as even Koller withdrew in his penalty area.
The Turks, however, threw too much forward too soon. In the 61st, they were still lucky when Koller went through the center on his own only to put his shot wide. One minute later, Plasil made it 2-0.
Portugal had already clinched first place in the group and will play the runner-up in Group B on Thursday in Basel.