UEFA.com celebrates the career of Hamit Altıntop, who dazzled during Turkey’s never-say-die run at UEFA EURO 2008.
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Originally impressing at right-back, Hamit Altıntop was a classy playmaker whose tireless ability to marshal the midfield made his switch to a central role an inspired one.
A set-piece specialist with a fierce shot, he was integral to a thrilling campaign that almost took Turkey to the final of UEFA EURO 2008.
• Turkey entered the tournament as rank outsiders having won just once in two previous final tournaments. In Fatih Terim's second spell in charge – he oversaw three defeats at EURO '96 during his initial tenure – the revered coach's unpredictable team and formations produced inconsistent results, and the omission of all-time leading scorer Hakan Şükür removed an obvious talisman from a creatively gifted squad.
• Having missed the final six weeks of the domestic season with a broken metatarsal, Altıntop’s display in the opening 2-0 loss to Portugal – surviving the embarrassment of being nutmegged by Cristiano Ronaldo before being replaced shortly after Pepe's opening goal – was respectable, if not indicative of the brilliance that was to come. "I'm still very, very optimistic," he insisted. "Our tournament for real starts on Wednesday [against Switzerland]."
• Two players of Turkish descent linked up to give fellow underdogs Switzerland the lead after half an hour in a rain-soaked Basel. Hakan Yakin waded through a puddle to convert Eren Derdiyok’s assist and leave Turkey’s prospects looking as bleak as the conditions. In a mercifully drier second half, Semih Şentürk equalised before Arda Turan scored a last-gasp winner. "It is a wonderful feeling," said a relieved (and slightly sodden) Terim, echoing Altıntop's sentiments. "Today is the beginning of the EURO for us."
• A tactical switch involving Altıntop swung a pulsating group decider. Two goals down against the Czech Republic, with whom they began tied in the table, Turkey moved their saviour into what resembled a six-man midfield midway through the second half. He duly set up a 75th-minute Arda Turan reply, then saw Czech keeper Petr Čech spill his cross to present an 87th-minute equaliser to Nihat Kahveci. Two minutes later the pair combined again, allowing Nihat to cap an extraordinary, unforgettable comeback. Turkey were through.
• Wisely encouraged to continue his buccaneering runs by Terim, Altıntop orchestrated a disciplined, tenacious quarter-final performance by a side depleted by injuries and suspensions. Croatia were far from alone in assuming Ivan Klasnić's 119th-minute strike had taken them through but Turkey again kept their best until last, Şentürk saving them with the final kick of extra time. Altintop scored their third penalty in a 3-1 shoot-out win and was named Man of the Match. "If we believe in ourselves, we can win the tournament," he said.
• A cruel semi-final exit was no reward for one of the finest displays of the tournament as Germany sneaked through having withstood a dominant display by Altıntop and his team-mates in a see-saw semi-final. Şentürk's late goal – replying to a Miroslav Klose header – heralded extra time, only for Philipp Lahm to oust Turkey in the final minute of the 90. It proved to be Altıntop's first and last international tournament – but his inspirational showing won worldwide admirers and a deserved place in the team of the tournament.
What you might not know
• Hamit’s identical twin brother and fellow Turkey midfielder, Halil, is the younger of the pair by ten minutes and provided a confidante for his sibling during UEFA EURO 2008, speaking to him daily despite being left out of the squad. The pair began their careers together at now-defunct German side Wattenscheid 09 between 2000 and 2003.
• Born in Gelsenkirchen, Hamit also grew up with three older sisters, crediting them and his mother for instilling his ability to deal with domestic chores during a 14-year youth and senior international career and spells outside of Germany with Real Madrid and Galatasaray.
• As well as his metatarsal misery, Hamit's fitness for the tournament had been in doubt after he suffered a muscle injury on his return to training with Bayern. Any concerns didn't deter him from marking Ronaldo in his opening match – Hamit described the test as "very good" and has subsequently spoken of his admiration for the "simply unique" Portuguese.
• Hamit was influential behind the scenes during the tournament, having the ear of Terim as he plotted a path to progress following that first defeat. "I'll be having a word with the coach about it personally," he revealed, calling for greater determination within the squad.
• The semi-final encounter had an extra edge for Hamit, who was facing many of his then team-mates from Bayern and had spoken in pre-tournament interviews of his desire to take on Germany in the knockout stages. A boyhood Roten fan, he spent four years at the club between 2007 and 2011, being replaced by Klose in their 2-0 UEFA Champions League final defeat by Inter in 2010.
• One of Hamit's seven international goals was a spectacular volley against Kazakhstan in the same year. He was renowned for explosive long-range efforts at club level, and cherishes a typically sumptuous strike against former club Schalke that helped Galatasaray (where he was reunited with Terim) reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2013.
• Hamit and Halil were on opposing sides on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga. “We set brotherly love aside for 90 minutes,” Halil admitted before their last meeting, when the Augsburg side for whom he was a popular figure played Darmstadt, for whom Hamit was a one-season regular before retiring in 2018.
• Hamit and fellow UEFA EURO 2008 hero Tuncay Şanlı, who played in goal for the final minutes of the match against the Czech Republic following the late dismissal of keeper Volkan Demirel, are among the Turkish Football Federation's Executive Committee members planning the UEFA Champions League 2020 final in Istanbul. Hamit is a UEFA ambassador for the city.
What he said
"Passion and emotion were our attributes, and we made them count on the field. We ran until our feet were blistered against the Croats."
"After we finished third at the 2002 World Cup, it was important for Turkey as a nation to show we'd continued to develop, especially in terms of tactics and discipline, on and off the field."
"I'm proud to say I've given my all in every training session and every game. Four [Bundesliga] titles, various cup successes and the Champions League final in 2010 – they're experiences I look back on very fondly and that make me happy."
What they said
"During our time together, I got to know him as a very loyal person who would go through the fire for the Lilies and his team-mates."
Dirk Schuster, coach at Darmstadt
"His change of pace reminded me a little of Lothar Matthäus. I also liked his flawless character."
Jupp Heynckes, coach at Schalke
"Hamit was an important player and character. He was one of the players I trusted and believed in."
Fatih Terim, coach at Galatasaray and for Turkey
International: 82 appearances, 7 goal
UEFA club competition: 53 appearances, 6 goal
Domestic competition: 350 appearances, 30 goals