Turkey coach Fatih Terim had spoken about there being no miracles in football but his depleted team showed that there is still plenty of magic and mystery in the beautiful game as they made a fittingly dramatic exit to Germany in a spectacular UEFA EURO 2008™ semi-final in Basel.
Missing four players through suspension and a further five through injury, Terim's hand was forced. So limited were his options that he had to play a midfielder at centre-back and a right-sided player in midfield, but today's top tactician has to be an alchemist, able to meld his materials to his end. With a patched-up squad, Terim constructed a team playing as a unit, and one that crashed in 15 shots on the German goal in a pulsating first half. He countered Germany's new 4-2-3-1 system by getting his full-backs and dynamic wingers Uğur Boral and Kazım Kazım to keep Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski largely tied up with defensive duties. Meanwhile, German talisman Michael Ballack had his own shadow in Mehmet Aurélio, the epitome of the modern holding midfielder.
Turkey's high-tempo start, with players seamlessly swapping positions, soon reaped dividends. Uğur and Kazım each tested the German defence in the opening ten minutes before the latter smacked a shot off the crossbar following great work by the energetic Sabri Sarıoğlu. Such was Terim's satisfaction that he flashed a thumbs-up gesture at makeshift defender Mehmet Topal and was soon rewarded by two terrific tackles from the Galatasaray AS player. Greater dividend followed after 22 minutes when Sabri and Kazım again combined for the latter to hit the bar. This time his Fenerbahçe SK team-mate Uğur was following up to knock the rebound beyond Jens Lehmann.
Turkey had only led for a combined nine minutes in the previous four games, and this time the advantage lasted only four as Germany hit back clinically to score through Schweinsteiger with their first attack of the game. Miracles or not, now omens were in opposition. Of the 19 teams who had taken the lead in a EURO semi-final since 1960, 13 had gone on to win and only three to lose – but ominously for Terim's team, Germany had never lost when Schweinsteiger had scored. The fates colliding, the teams were freed from their defensive shackles and the game continued to ebb and flow into the second half though now it was Germany carrying the greater threat. Turkey weathered that early storm but were finally undone by a trademark header from Miroslav Klose as goalkeeper Rüstü Reçber erred.
Could Turkey conjure up another late goal? With only three replacements to choose from, Terim was like a poker player with half a hand but again he came up trumps. Mevlüt Erdinç and Gökdeniz Karadeniz came on and seconds later, with four minutes to go, Semih Şentürk struck, finishing at the near post after fine play from Sabri. Another miracle? Not quite. Seconds from the end of normal time, the Turkish defence parted and Philipp Lahm stole in to score and end their odyssey. They had played their part in another classic and given truth to Terim's pre-match words: "Years from now when people talk about EURO 2008™ they will remember Turkey. In that sense we have succeeded."
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