No Stopping Them
In the end, then, Turkey didn’t have quite enough about them to be able to keep Germany at bay but, lord, they have given us some fabulous memories in this tournament and will be sadly missed in the final on Sunday evening. Germany, by contrast, are in the final of another major tournament without having played particularly well last night, and will face the winners of tonight’s match between Spain and Russia. It promises to be an absolute thriller. In all honesty, last night’s match was played very much in the shadow of this evening’s match. Most of the press attention here over the last couple of days has been drooling over the clash between Arshavin & Pavlyuchenko and Villa & Torres, and the column inches dedicated precious little to the internecine battle between Germany and Turkey, but this match far outshone the low expectations that accompanied it.
Much had been made before the match of the selection problems facing Fatih Terim, with Nihat joining the heaving treatment table with a knee injury that ruled him out for the rest of the competition. The Turkish side had an element of a patchwork look about it, and it was this that informed the belief that Germany would stroll to a comfortable win. Turkey, however, started far the stronger of the two teams against a German team that looked simultaneously sluggish and complacent, and hit the crossbar early on with a crashing shot from ten yards by Kazim Kazim – Semih then shot narrowly wide from a tight angle after Germany failed to successfully clear the ball. The breakthrough came midway through the first half, and had more than an element of luck about it. Kazim looped a shot over Lehmann which came down off the crossbar, and squad player Ugur put the rebound past the German goalkeeper, who curiously tried to stop the relatively tame shot with his feet rather than with his hands. The lead lasted just five minutes for Turkey, and was cancelled out with Germany’s first serious attack of the match. It was a sweeping move from midfield that caught Turkey out, with Hitzlsperger finding Lucas Podolski in space on the left, with his low cross being delightfully turned in by the unfairly derided Bastian Schweinsteiger. It was tough on Turkey, who had dominated the early stages of the match, and one might have expected Germany to go on and win the match comfortably from this position, but there were still plenty more twists and turns to come.
Germany started to assert their authority more effectively in the second half, and Lahm was unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty after he was chopped down on the edge of the penalty area, although it took a replay to confirm that Sabri’s foot had been inside the penalty area when it took him out. Hitzlsperger then shot narrowly over and narrowly wide, before Germany took the lead. Prior to this, though technical difficulties meant that we lost all pictures from Basel. The sound of panicking across Europe was almost audible as the technicians at the stadium struggled to find which particular lead had become disconnected (it turns out, in fact, that it was a storm near the stadium that was the cause), but there were no pictures for a few, agonising minutes before they returned, without commentary. All of this led to Alan Green’s biggest ever audience, as people hit the red button on their remote controls and switched to the unharmed BBC radio commentary, but the quality of pictures coming from the stadium was still flaky and cut out again just before Germany snatched the lead. Some of you may remember what I said about Recber Rustu at the weekend and, yes, he did it again, coming unconvincingly for a long, deep cross and leaving the goal empty for Miroslaw Klose to head the favourites into the lead.
Of course, you write Turkey off at your peril, and with five minutes left to play of another breathless match, they levelled things up again. This time, the spotlight was back on Jens Lehmann. Sabri wriggled his way clear of Lahm and crossed low into the six yard box, allowing Semih to turn the ball past Lehmann and in, but the replay again showed that the Stuttgart goalkeeper had left his near post hopelessly exposed, and the crouching movement that he made in expectation of getting the ball was reminiscent of a wicketkeeper than of an international goalkeeper. It was another lapse in concentration from Lehmann, and not his first of the tournament – the sort of thing that will fill the winners of tonight’s match with confidence. It looked as if yet another late comeback had forced the match into extra-time, but Germany finally broke Turkish hearts as the clock ticked over ninety minutes. It was, I have to say, a goal worthy of winning such a match. You think that Total Football began and ended with the Dutch side of the 1970s? You might want to tell that to Phillip Lahm, who began and ended another thrusting German pass and move attack by sweeping the ball past Rustu and in, to take Germany into the final.
So, another extraordinary match, that ended in Germany somehow ending up on top. One can’t help but think of the phrase, “”Football is a game of eleven against eleven, and in the end, it’s the Germans who win”. Turkey, with their squad ripped to pieces by injury and suspension, gave it everything they could but didn’t quite have enough in the tank to be able to earn a result. Their performance in this competition has, however, been absolutely thrilling to watch, and they deserve our thanks for having played every single game to the death. For them to lose in the same way that they had beaten Croatia and the Czech Republic only adds to the irony of a competition that is sticking to the script by the very skin of its teeth. Germany, meanwhile, rumble ominously on to Sunday’s final. Unless Jens Lehmann starts tidying up his play, though, Guus Hiddinck and Luis Aragones will be looking forward to Sunday with the knowledge that there is nothing inevitable about this Germany team winning Euro 2008.