Lens, France: Four disappointing months after moving to a Chinese club, Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz needed just 10 minutes against the Czech Republic to shrug off his troubles at the European Championship.
Approaching the near post to meet a cross by right winger Emre Mor, Yilmaz beat goalkeeper Petr Cech with a well-placed strike on Tuesday to finally give his team their first goal of the tournament.
Turkey ultimately won 2-0 and remained in the running for a place in the last 16, despite earlier defeats against Croatia and Spain.
“This year has been really difficult for me,” said Yilmaz, who was named man of the match by UEFA. “I’ve had my injuries.”
Just weeks ago, he wasn’t even sure he was going to play at Euro 2016.
The 30-year-old striker left Galatasaray in February for a surprise move to Beijing Guoan, but a persistent thigh injury prevented him from actually playing for the Chinese club until mid-April.
After scoring on his debut in a 3-0 win at Hangzhou Greentown, Yilmaz was again sidelined with a torn muscle, putting his presence in France for the national team in doubt.
“I have been preparing for three months in China with two physiotherapists,” he said. “I just hoped to make it to the tournament. It was really hard and demanding.”
His efforts to become fit have paid off. Featuring in his first major tournament, Yilmaz played no significant role in Turkey’s first two matches but looked to be back at his best against the Czech Republic, and capped his performance with his 21st goal in his 47th international match.
“Hopefully we get what we deserve and advance,” Yilmaz said. “If we advance, we will go as far as possible.”
Yilmaz drew praise from his coach, Fatih Terim, who also named 18-year-old winger Mor as his team’s outstanding players of the night.
“Emre Mor, I was impressed by him, it was an important decision to play him,” Terim said. “Mor and Yilmaz were great tonight. I am totally satisfied with how we played.”
According to Yilmaz, the “difference between the first two games and tonight is that we have many unexperienced players. But now we are really optimistic.”