Vincenzo Montella on win over Austria: ‘I saw Turkish heart today and that is what I love about this country’

Vincenzo Montella, Head Coach of Turkiye, gestures during the UEFA EURO 2024 round of 16 match between Austria and Turkiye at Football Stadium Leipzig on July 02, 2024

Vincenzo Montella, Head Coach of Turkiye, gestures during the UEFA EURO 2024 round of 16 match between Austria and Turkiye at Football Stadium Leipzig on July 02, 2024 Credit: (Photo by Alex Pantling - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Macdara Ferris reports from Leipzig

Vincenzo Montella’s managerial career has brought him from his native Italy where he worked at Roma, Catania, Sampdoria and Milan, to Sevilla and to Adana Demirspor in Türkiye.

That last stop gave him the platform to step forward into the international managerial game with the Crescent-Stars less than a year ago when Stefan Kuntz stepped down during EURO 2024 qualification.

Montella successfully steered his side through qualification with three wins and a draw to top their group ahead of Croatia - who they beat 1-0 away from home in Montella’s first match in charge. His side now stand on the cusp of equalling Türkiye’s best ever Euros – they reached the semi-finals at EURO 2008. 

Türkiye’s 2-1 win over Austria in Leipzig on Tuesday night was done without their talismanic skipper Hakan Çalhanoğlu but performances from Arda Güler, Merih Demiral and keeper Mert Gunok proved pivotal in the win.

The team celebrated in the centre circle in the Leipzig rain after the full time whistle having eliminated dark horses Austria from the tournament.

Montella was markedly not getting carried away with the Beşiktaş goalkeeper’s incredible injury time save of Christoph Baumgartner’s header. Austrian boss Ralf Rangnick said it was like Gordon Banks’ save from Pele in the 1970 Mexico World Cup but Montello was more measured.

“Well done to Mert – that is his job to make saves. I’m happy for him that he made that match-winning save in the final minute and I’m happy for the team and the country.”

Güler was deployed in a ‘false nine’ role and it was his two corners that supplied the crosses for both Demiral’s goals. “Arda Güler played superbly and he had to do something different in this game.”

Ahead of the Euros, the Turks went with friendly matches away from home and results didn’t go their way, outside of drawing 0-0 with Italy. They lost 1-0 to Hungary, 2-1 to Poland and a worrying 6-1 defeat to Austria. That final result in particular was on Montella’s mind.

“We were heavily maligned after the friendlies as we played against high level teams who were all here at the Euros. They didn’t pan out particularly well, the peak was Austria which was a horrible stain on my career. I wanted to get that monkey off my back."

The best moment in his career to date was managing Milan to a Suppercoppa Italiana in 2016 but he now has a new highlight.

“I coached Roma and Seville in the Champions League, and won a last 16 tie at Old Trafford. I’d three wonderful years at Fiorentina. I’m very happy in Turkey. I took on a challenge to go to Turkey three years ago.

"Lifting a piece of silverware with Milan was wonderful but this is another level. It is a new dimension as you are representing a country.” 

In the post-match press conference, a Turkish journalist let Montella know that the last time their team took on the Dutch, they also lost 6-1. That was in a World Cup qualifier in September 2021.

“I didn’t know that but I know we have beaten the Netherlands in the past,” said Montello – Türkiye beat Germany at home earlier in that qualifying campaign with Burak Yılmaz helping himself to a hat-trick in their 4-2 victory.

“Every game is different. We need to maintain our spirit and belief but we need to keep our feet on the ground.”

Montello is looking for his team to stay grounded after he admitted that in their last group game “our emotions got the better of us.”

They were able to get the win against Czechia with a late goal but picked up ten yellow cards. That meant their skipper wasn’t available in Leipzig and while he returns, they will have two players suspended for the upcoming quarter-final - Orkun Kökçü and İsmail Yüksek.

“We wanted to win the game too much,” said the 49-year-old about their 2-1 victory over Czechia. “We didn’t have that today. I’m very proud of the spirit we showed on the pitch. I saw Turkish heart today and that is what I love about this country. The team showed their soul today.” 

Next up for them is a quarter-final against the Netherlands on Saturday in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. It is a venue where last time out Türkiye beat Germany 3-2 in a friendly in November 2023.

The prize for another victory this weekend will be a place in the semi-final against either England or Switzerland in Dortmund.