Turkey: Praise The Walking Wounded

Goal.com's Peter Staunton looks at the Turkish challenge with a novel perspective...

In a parallel universe, England are preparing for a Euro 2008 semi-final against Germany. After battling their way through Group A with two wins and a defeat, and overcoming a tough quarter-final, Steve McClaren's side are looking to make their first appearance in a major final since winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966.

Problems abound for the side however. As England have progressed, they have haemorrhaged personnel, both through injury and suspension. During their opening game defeat, the Three Lions were wounded by the loss of central defender, John Terry and centre forward Michael Owen through injury.

Despite the loss and the loss of men, England regrouped and managed to clinch victory in their second match with a 2-1 victory. Winger Joe Cole netted the winner in injury time. Once again, the win came with a cost, Frank Lampard was ruled out of the remainder of the entire tournament through a groin strain as difficulties began to pile up.

During the course of their final and decisive group game, McClaren's side lost first-choice goalkeeper David James for two competition matches through suspension, David Beckham took over in goal, while Steven Gerrard picked up a booking ruling him out of the quarter-final. Ashley Cole took a knock, but was fit to train the following day.

Preparing for the final eight encounter, the English lost Rio Ferdinand with an injury, and, during the course of the match itself, saw Joe Cole and David Beckham pick up suspensions meaning they would play no part in the semi-final, should the team qualify. Talismanic striker Wayne Rooney, meanwhile,  limped from the turf hamstrung, meaning that he too would miss the remainder of the tournament.

Amazingly, with a shadow side, England defied the odds and secured their place stubbornly in the semi-final, with substitute Jermain Defoe clinching a vital late goal in an energy-sapping extra-time. Their resolution and belief was beginning to blossom.

Despite their place in the final four, England are a parody of the side that secured qualification, with only 12 fit outfield players. Third choice goalkeeper Paul Robinson has an outfield shirt printed with his name should he be required to be an auxiliary centre forward.

For the crucial encounter, England line up as such: Scott Carson - Wes Brown, Michael Dawson, Matthew Upson, Ashley Cole - David Bentley, Owen Hargreaves, Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing - Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe.

Weakened throughout the spine of the team, the odds are stacked against England, as they prepare for their first semi-final since Italia '90, with a team stocked with reserves and untested young talents. The Germans are full-strength, like each and every side the English have already faced. Legs are leaden, players are training in a manner akin to running in treacle, as lactic acid burns its way through overused muscles.

The national press is hailing the 'walking wounded', serving the country proud in the face of adversity. A knighthood for each member of the squad is mooted by the Daily Mail. The achievement is 'heroic', the strength of the Premier League confirmed, the occasion represents a return to global football's top table for a great side that have been away for too long. The depleted squad get the recognition they deserve - the national press sings from the rooftop about this formidable and unlikely feat.

Here in Britain, and back in the real world, we are subjected to a purely objective view of Turkey's astonishing run at Euro 2008.

Potentially without nine key players for a semi-final against Germany, this extraordinary story cannot be over-emphasised. This week, in any paper - from The Sun to The Daily Telegraph - we are treated with 'team news' without any contextualisation.

By bringing in a hypothetical English comparison, it is possible to assess how tough it has been for the Turks, despite ills of their own making, such as Volkan's needless shove on Jan Koller, and three more bans being administered in the quarter-final win.

Turkey are not only short of players, they are short of their match-winners; Emre - the captain, Nihat Kahveci, the vice-captain and Arda Turan, the bright young hope of Turkish football, to name just three. If they should upset the odds and defeat the Germans, it would mark one of the most remarkable team victories of all time, in any sport.

Imagine the Chicago Bulls completing their historic mid-nineties NBA three-peat without Michael Jordan, Scott Pippen and Dennis Rodman; Brazil winning the World Cup in 1970 without Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao and Carlos Alberto; in a word, unlikely.

The progress of Turkish football has been rampant, yet in the shadows in this part of the world. In 1996, Turkey qualified for their first international tournament since 1954, when they were defeated in the opening round.

They did not cover themselves in glory admittedly at Euro '96, but the groundwork was laid for future fortunes. Four years later and Fatih Terim oversaw the UEFA Cup final, when un-fancied Galatasaray gave a hint of the forthcoming Turkish resilience by breaking Arsenal's resistance in a penalty shoot-out. For the first time also that year, the national team reached the knock-out stages of a European Championship.

Istanbul had long been one of the more intimidating cities in European football, with sides like Real Madrid and Manchester United faltering in the vitriolic atmosphere of the Ali Semi Yen stadium. The difference that came with the millennium watershed was that the Turks learned to travel.

No better was this demonstrated than in 2002, when Turkey went remarkably to third place at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan, with Hakan Sukur scoring the quickest World Cup goal of all time against the co-hosts in the bronze-medal match.

This feat preceded a strong showing at the 2003 edition of the Confederations Cup, ultimately overshadowed by the tragic death of Cameroon's Marc-Vivien Foé.

One more hurdle needs to be cleared before they can welcome back the semblance of a team for the final against Russia or Spain, but the way they have held their opponents throats in injury time, and mugged them, thus far in Euro 2008 suggests that Terim's 'no surrender' attitude may prevail for the proud Turks again. Good luck to them.

Peter Staunton