Basel witnessed arguably the best game of Euro 2008 so far yesterday evening when comeback kings Turkey came up against pre-tournament favourites Germany for a place in the final. The result was thought to be a foregone conclusion; Turkey would never be able to repeat their heroics from the previous three games and Germany, knockout specialists, would prevail.
It proved to be the case, but the Mannschaft were outplayed for the entirety of the encounter by a war-torn Turkey side that had never been in a Euro semi-final before. Missing four players due to suspension and a further four through injury, the Turks could barely field a full complement of substitutes and had a midfielder in defence, but deservedly took the lead midway through the first half.
Turkey had led for an aggregate of about two minutes in their previous three games - an astonishing statistic - and coach Fatih Terim found out exactly why that is yesterday, as they only led for a further four before Germany pegged them back with their first attack of the game. The Turks remained rampant and continued to dominate proceedings either side of half time, even when the whole world was expecting Germany to re-emerge after the break the notoriously well-oiled machine we've known them to be. It was Germany, though - despite an inability to defend with any composure or maintain possession - who not only hung in there but were gifted the lead 10 minutes from time courtesy of a monumental goalkeeping error. Turkey had been here before, though, and crafted a delightful equaliser in the 86th minute, only to concede a controversial goal on the stroke of 90 minutes which proved one too many as Germany saw out stoppage time to book their place in the Vienna final on Sunday.
Germany had three shots on target and scored them all; were they clinical or just lucky? Does the result truly tell all, or in other words, does Turkey conceding the three goals in the manner they did mean they deserved to lose? Any winning team needs a little bit of luck on their side - particularly in knockout tournaments - but were Germany really worth their result? Following the loss to Croatia on day six, there were questions of whether Germany, declared pre-tournament favourites, were overrated - does their presence in the final defy such accusations? Winning on off-days is undoubtedly the hallmark of champions, but isn't another prerequisite the ability to consistently perform well? Surely, had they been in the other half of the draw, their defensive misdemeanours and disjointed attacking play would have been put to the sword by the likes of the Netherlands and Russia - after all, look what happened to a star-studded France side.
However, being in the weaker half of the draw, they have edged their way into the final. While taking advantage of Portugal's poor defending of set-pieces was smart pre-planning and ruthless precision, the Germans were otherwise on the back foot for as good as the entirety of that quarterfinal clash, but at least showed plenty of defensive resilience - they looked in control - enough to be well worth their victory. The difference against Turkey was that the defending returned to its trademark woeful worst - even Philipp Lahm was torn apart - and quite how they survived is anybody's guess. Colin Kazim-Richards had an effort cannon back off the bar, and it was otherwise a case of lacking that finishing touch - that final shot, pass or run not quite precise enough to make their domination count - very little of that can be credited to Germany.
This is of course the last thing euphoric Germany fans will be thinking of at this moment and rightly so - it is without doubt their prerogative to seize the moment and look forward to trying to win the final - but brutally honest analysis reveals that the Germans do not look like title-winning material. That being said, maybe Turkey did not deserve victory either. Sabri Sarıoğlu was certainly culpable in defensive capacity for the Turks; allowing Lukas Podolski to cross for Bastian Schweinsteiger's equaliser, mere inches away from conceding a penalty (and should have conceded a free-kick) for a reckless foul on Lahm and even out of position for Lahm's late, late winner. Veteran goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber, standing in for the suspended Volkan Demirel, was arguably the most culpable even though he made only a single error - it was a huge one - allowing Miroslav Klose to head Germany into the lead at a point when only one team looked like winning it. Volkan's two-game ban being upheld cannot be seen as bad luck for the Turks, his push on Jan Koller in the dying moments of their 3-2 win, though exaggerated by the 6'7 striker, was certainly worth the punishment, and Rüştü, making his second error in as many games, simply wasn't good enough.
Perhaps coach Fatih Terim, who was exceptional all tournament, fell short yesterday in a tactical sense. His team concede far too freely - which he admitted himself - and so it is no wonder he fell short in Serie A in his brief stint with Milan. Sabri was out of his depth at right-back yet such a threat going forward that perhaps slotting Hamit Altintop in at full-back, where he has played to decent effect so far in this tournament, would have in fact added more solidity, even if the Turks would have lost some of their creative edge in midfield as a result.
It was to end in heartbreak, but not without a little bit of controversy, as Colin Kazim-Richards went down injured just before Lahm's winner and the Germans refused to put the ball out of play. The London-born midfielder has since come out and publicly criticised them for a lack of sportsmanship, after Turkey had kicked it out for them earlier in the game. Was it fair? After all, the Germans weren't losing - scores were level, so it was not necessarily a matter of what had to be done there and then - or was it? How would Germany have reacted had it happened to them?
When all is said and done, Germany have done it again. They are in their sixth Euro final - having won three of their previous five - and they will face either Spain or Russia, who play each other tonight in Vienna. Being declared pre-tournament favourites, the Germans certainly appear to be living off their reputation, as they lack the champion-like control teams such as Italy had in defence in 2006, Brazil had going forward in 2002, or to go further back, the control they themselves had all over the park in their indomitable team of the 1970s. That considered, you would be hard-pressed to put their current grinding out of results down to their trademark efficiency from previous generations; they have gotten to the latter stages in recent years with a fair bit of blind luck - including fortunate draws in tournaments such as the last two World Cups - but ultimately, they are still here ... is that all that matters?
Fatih Terim has dropped a strong hint that, after holding talks with the Turkey board, he will stand down from his position as coach following their elimination. The 54-year-old will be heading back into club management somewhere in Europe. Where might he fit in best? England, Italy, Spain? Perhaps Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands or France? Is there a particular club who could do with his services and will he find employment before the 2008/09 season commences in August?