While Italy collapsed, the harrowing night of the European playoffs brought Gareth Bale back to the fore on a football pitch, Portugal advanced with suffering and Sweden finished off the Czech Republic in extra time.
Diogo Costa, Raphael Guerreiro (Nuno Mendes, min. 87), Danilo Pereira, Diogo Dalot, Fonte, Moutinho (Matheus, min. 87), Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes (William Carvalho, min. 79), Otavinho (Rafael Leao, min. 88), Diogo Jota (João Félix, min. 70) and Cristiano
Ugurcan Cakir, Soyuncu, Ozan Kabak, Demiral, Calhanoglu, Berkan Kutlu (Serdar Dursun, min. 89), Zeki Celik (Yazici, min. 79), Orkun Kokcu (Tokoz, min. 79), Kerem Akturkoglu (Enes Ünal, min. .65), Yilmaz and Cengiz Ünder
goals 1-0 min. 14: Otavinho. 2-0 min. 41: Diogo Jota. 2-1 min. 64: Yilmaz. 3-1 min. 93: Matheus.
Yellow cards Zeki Celik (min. 33), Diogo Jota (min. 34), Calhanoglu (min. 68), Demiral (min. 75), Moutinho (min. 85) and Tokoz (min. 95)
Bale became a national hero in Cardiff with his brace against Austria (2-1). Masterpiece of hitting, dry, strong, the free kick that opened the scoring made the ball go up and down with violence and precision directly to the top corner. He widened the gap at the beginning of the second half and Sabitzer reduced it in the 65th minute, but that was it. His rival in the final for a place in the World Cup in Qatar will be Scotland or Ukraine, whose semifinal was postponed after the invasion of Ukraine. Wales hasn’t been to a World Cup since 1958. The British side’s challenge takes on historic proportions.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine also affected another tie. With Russia suspended administratively, their rival in their play-off tournament, Poland, went directly to the final against Sweden, who on Thursday beat the Czech Republic 1-0 in extra time with a goal from Quaison in the 110th minute.
With the exception of Didier Deschamps, no coach in Europe has more groceries in his cupboard than Fernando Santos. The variety and level of Portugal’s resources allowed the coach to improvise dazzling solutions against Turkey. Without Pepe or Rúben Dias, his starting central defenders, both injured, the coach delayed Danilo so that he could accompany Fonte, and in the midfield he dispensed with the pivot and gave the helm of the team to Moutinho and Bernardo Silva. With no trace of the slender athletes that historically populated the Portuguese midfield, Santos doubled down on the refinement of his gamble by adding Bruno Fernandes as hookup and two industrious wingers, Jota and Otavio, with multiple assignments. The first, with less imagination than dynamism, the second with work and good speed. Few imagined things faster than Otavio, a skillful interpreter of the game at a touch, clear in the midfield and unbalanced in the last quarter.
Otavio da Silva, born in Brazil 27 years ago, international canarinho in lower categories and nationalized Portuguese, he established himself as a great revelation of the Portugal team. First pushing the 1-0 behind Bernardo Silva’s post, then assisting Jota in the 2-0 with a lob that was the culmination of a choral progression that added Bernardo Silva and Moutinho.
Turkey misses a penalty
Otavio became Bernardo Silva’s best ally in a game that Portugal comfortably dominated in all orders except defensive transitions. When he lost the ball he did not always anticipate correctly, deprived as he was of a specialist pivot, and there were some disturbing approaches that the central defenders did not know how to dismantle with solvency. Through that slot Turkey slipped into the wall. Overcoming the incompetence of their defenses, the disorder in their midfield, the thunderous shots from Cristiano, Jota and Otavio, the Turks punished Portugal in two lightning actions. They made it 2-1 after a wall from Ünder that enabled Yilmaz, and they were about to tie a game that was hopelessly steep thanks to the recklessness of Fonte, who committed a penalty on Enes Ünal. The presence of William Carvalho —replacing the dispersed Bruno Fernandes— did not prevent the scare. Yilmaz sent the shot wide.
Turkey have not qualified for a World Cup since their amazing participation in 2002, when they finished third. Unstable by nature, Turkish footballers displayed their full repertoire of emotional foibles at O Dragao. They allowed themselves to finish off the 1-0 without any of their renowned central defenders reacting in time and only with the charge of the comeback —spurred on by the liberation of the one who no longer has anything to lose— they expressed their brave character. The game then ran through the somewhat uncontrolled channel that characterizes these situations in which each gesture, each pass, each run, seem to produce irrevocable consequences. Not even the entry of João Félix for Jota in the second half helped Portugal to completely dominate the match. Only the goal by Matheus Nunes, in the 94th minute, relieved Fernando Santos, who was more tormented every day on the wing.
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