||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Thursday, October 7, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: December 8, 5:40 PM UK
Turkey's comeback kings are halted by Germany
On Friday, Germany face Turkey in a Euro 2012 qualifying tie as two countries with close ties do battle in Berlin. The last meeting between the sides took place at the semi-final stage of Euro 2008 and with friendly relations temporarily suspended, Europe was treated to a dramatic encounter in Basel.
Euro 2008 was a memorable tournament for myriad reasons: the fleeting glimpse of brilliance supplied by Netherlands in the group stages; the birth of a truly great side in Spain; the revelation that was Russia and Andrei Arshavin; and, of course, Raymond Domenech's desperately misguided on-air proposal to his girlfriend following France's lamentable exit. But for many football fans, the lasting image will be that of an entertaining and combustible Turkey side.
Coach Fatih Terim battled crippling injuries, damaging suspensions and any semblance of logic when somehow dragging his side through the tournament, but they would find an insurmountable barrier at the semi-finals in the shape of Germany - a country that was economically and culturally interlinked with their own.
In contrast to Turkey's travails, Germany's progression through the finals in Austria and Switzerland had been relatively unproblematic. Though Bastian Schweinsteiger was shown a red card during a defeat to Croatia in the group stages and was rebuked by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Bayern Munich midfielder curried favour with the head of state once more after helping inspire Low's side to a 3-2 win in the quarter-final against Portugal. "She said that I should not do the same foolish things, that I should just play as I did before," Schweinsteiger said. "When Mrs Chancellor says you have to do something, you have to do it."
While Germany were flirting with political displeasure, Turkey were positively cavorting with possible elimination. Terim's pre-tournament boast that "I can't have any other ambition than the European title" looked very hollow indeed after an opening defeat to Portugal, and when his side went 1-0 down to Switzerland in their second game, it appeared their hopes were being submerged as quickly as the rain-sodden pitch at St. Jakob-Park.
But in Basel, Turkey discovered within themselves an aptitude for escapology that would put David Blaine to shame. A 2-1 win was secured when Semih Senturk levelled on 57 minutes and winger Arda Turan scored with a deflected effort a full two minutes into injury time. Turkey's final group game, against Czech Republic, witnessed even more remarkable scenes as Nihat Kahveci scored twice in the final four minutes to turn a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 win and a passage into the quarter-finals, where they would play Croatia.
In Vienna, though Turkey threatened to be hoist by their own petard when Ivan Klasnic scored what looked a late winner for Croatia after 119 goalless minutes, a late, late effort from Semih took the game to penalties, where Turkey won 3-1. It was a third quite incredible conclusion in succession, and Terim was ecstatic: "What has happened to us is unique in our history," he said. "We have become one of the great footballing nations. Our people can rejoice."
The Takvim newspaper dedicated its entire front page to the triumph, declaring 'Fatih Terim's tigers work a miracle'. The feeling that momentum had swung decisively in Turkey's favour was summed up by the German-born Hamit Altintop, who said: "It's the third time we've made a comeback. If we carry on like this, everything is possible."
But like the assembled cast of young, good-looking innocents who inevitably meet a horribly sticky end in the Final Destination franchise, Turkey found they could cheat death no longer in the semi-finals. Playing the dastardly role of the Grim Reaper and plunging the jagged pole through Turkish foreheads was Germany.
It was a fixture that had resonance beyond the football sphere, appealing as it did to social, cultural and economic themes. An estimated 2.7 million people of Turkish citizenship or heritage lived within Germany's borders and their presence was largely the legacy of an influx of gastarbeiter (guest workers), who moved to West Germany in the 1960s and 70s and played an important role in the country's economic development. Many opted to stay in their new surroundings, bedding down into society and ensuring a thriving Turkish presence in German life.
That presence was felt, too, in German football. Former Bayern Munich midfielder Mehmet Scholl is perhaps the most famous German international of Turkish descent, though his achievements could surely be matched by Real Madrid's latest star, Mesut Ozil, in future years. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin, meanwhile, opted to play for Turkey and scored against Germany in a friendly in August 2005. These were two countries whose sporting history was becoming increasingly intertwined.
Indeed, when Turkey failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, many of their supporters based in Germany rallied round the Mannschaft. Reports were even filed of celebratory gunshots being heard over Berlin's Turkish district of Kreuzberg following a victory against Ecuador.
There was a clear fraternal feeling ahead of the game, expressed by a joint editorial in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and the German publication Bild, which concluded: "Togetherness and friendship. Whatever the result of Wednesday's match and regardless of whoever makes it through to the finals, the friendship between Turks and Germans will win out. Let's celebrate along with the winning team and jointly support them [in] the finals."
Those predicting a Turkey upset were assailed by two separate threads of unwelcome reality. Firstly, cold, hard realism was found in the remarkable statistic that in over 6.5 hours of football at the tournament, Terim's side had only been in the lead for a collective total of less than eight minutes.
Secondly, the coach was besieged by selection problems. Nihat, scorer of the two goals against Czech Republic in the final group game, was forced home due to a thigh injury prior to the semi-final and it was even suggested that Terim would be forced to field third-choice goalkeeper Tolga Zengin as an outfield player, given that as many as nine players were either doubtful or ruled out due to injury and suspension.
But a patched-up Turkey side, marshalled by the indefatigable Terim, produced a brilliant performance in Basel, showcasing their desire and spirit throughout.
London-born Colin Kazim-Richards - once purchased by Brighton & Hove Albion for £250,000 as part of a Coca Cola promotion, but by now representing Fenerbahce - smacked a shot against the crossbar after only 12 minutes. The winger, who had taken the name Kazim Kazim when opting to represent Turkey, found the woodwork once again after 22 minutes but on this occasion Ugur Boral was on hand to scramble the ball home. Germany clawed a goal back just five minutes later when Schweinsteiger - by now firmly in Chancellor Merkel's good books - converted a cross from Lukas Podolski, but they went into the break shaken after attracting an onslaught. Turkey had enjoyed 15 shots, nine of which were on target.
In the second half, millions watching across the globe were sporadically left in the dark by an electrical storm that enveloped UEFA's International Broadcast Centre in Vienna. Many missed Miroslav Klose exploit a mistake from Turkey goalkeeper Rustu to head in from Philipp Lahm's cross with only 11 minutes remaining. Again Turkey were behind, and again they demonstrated their powers of recovery. With just four minutes remaining, Semih grabbed his third of the competition when nipping in front of Jens Lehmann to meet a cross from Sabri Sarioglu to make it 2-2.
But supplies of Turkey's miracle cure had been exhausted, like their threadbare squad. In the cruelest of ironies, Lahm sauntered forward in the closing seconds, exchanged passes with Thomas Hitzlsperger and lifted the ball past Rustu. This time there would be no comeback - it was Germany who would progress to the final.
Beaten, but not unbowed, Terim knew his side had left an imprint on the competition. "There were 70 million Turkish hearts beating with the players' out there today," he said. "I am proud of my players and I think their desire, tactics and performance means they showed the world what a great team they are. I think we are leaving as the most colourful team of the tournament."
After a remarkable few weeks, few would disagree with that sentiment.
What happened next? Germany lost 1-0 to Spain in the final thanks to a solitary goal from Fernando Torres. Though Terim said he would likely quit in the aftermath of defeat, he instead remained in the post until October 2009, when Turkey's failure to reach the World Cup in South Africa necessitated his departure.