One last upset was beyond Turkey, but they so nearly did it again. Turkey have surprised everybody at the this tournament, not least themselves. But then they came up against Germany, the team that does not deal in surprises.
Turkey were the better side for much of this pulsating match. But just when the Turks looked to be on the verge of another amazing comeback, thanks to Semih Senturk’s late equaliser, Philipp Lahm popped up, played a terrific one-two with Lukas Podolski, and fired home the winner to send the Turks home.
Turkey were down to their last 14 players, including reserve keeper Tolga Zengin and the walking wounded, Tumer Metin. Four players were suspended, another two were injured and a further two out of the tournament completely. And they were facing a German team that had overpowered a talented Portugal side in the quarter-final.
No problem. Turkey faced the challenge with gusto and took the game to a clearly rattled Germany.
This would be no walkover for Germany. Kazim hit the bar in the 13th minute and again in the 22nd, when the rebound was turned in by Ugur. With Turkey pushing up and playing a high defensive line, there was always the danger they could be caught on the break. And so it proved in the 26th minute when Germany engineered their first attack and scored through Schweinsteiger, again showing his eagerness to run from midfield, who turned in Podolski’s cross.
With Torsten Frings replacing the injured Simon Rolfes at half-time, there was a slower pace to the start of the second half. Germany should have been awarded a penalty when Sabri, the midfielder who always looked uncomfortable at left back, clattered into Lahm on the edge of the area. But the German claims were waived away.
With Turkish resources so limited, there was always a danger that they would run out of gas. But something has been driving this team on throughout the tournament. And they did again in the 86th minute, responding to Miroslav Klose’s 79th headed goal with a well-worked goal of their own. Sabri, always much happier going forwards, skinned Lahn and cross for Semih to turn the ball past a surprised Jens Lehmann.
As I write, the German squad, to a man, are on the pitch, saluting the fans who are now preparing to invade Vienna in their thousands. There has been an inevitability about Germany’s progress through this tournament, from the moment Podolski’s first goal thumped into the Polish net in their opening game. There was a blip against Croatia, but that defeat to Slaven Bilic’s side only forced the pragmatic side of the German character to the fore. The players convened, discussed the situation and decided on a tactical rethink, from 442 and 4231.
So the German machine rolls on, but only after Turkey threw a serious spanner in the works. Lahm’s late winner demonstrated the remarkable spirit of the nationalmannschaft, a team who thrive in adversity, and never give up.
Euro 2008 has been an exceptional tournament, possible the best ever. Aside from the outstanding football being played, one factor has contributed more than any other to spectacle – the fans.
The Dutch takeover of Basle typified the spirit of Euro 2008. Thousands poured into the city last Saturday for the quarter-final with Russia, and thousands poured out again. And yet there was only a handful of arrests. Throughout the tournament, on trains and trams, in centre centres and the fanzones, supporters from different countries and different cities have mixed without any cause for concern. In many ways, that has been the biggest achievement of the tournament.
After a mix-up over my ticket in the media tribune, I watched the Spain-Italy quarter-final with the fans, thanks to a Spanish friend (gracias, Rogelio!). It was a chance to see the tournament in a way most journalist don’t normally experience. There were plenty of Italian and Spanish supporters in the neutral areas, but very few of them were actually from either country. Instead, they spoke German and English, French and Dutch.
What struck me most was the lack of stewarding inside the ground. Security, as ever, was tight at the stadium perimeter. But once inside, fans were generally left alone. There was none of the nightclub-bouncer mentality that afflicts stewarding at English grounds like Old Trafford, where anybody attempting to stand up from their seat is pounced upon as if they were about to throw a hand grenade onto the pitch.
Whisper it, but Euro 2008 has been such an enjoyable tournament because England are not here. There are plenty of English people here, watching the matches as genuine fans. But there is no En-ger-land. And there’s the rub. The atmosphere is far more relaxed. Nobody is looking nerviously over their shoulders. Nobody is relieved when arrests are kept to a minimum. Instead, everybody is celebrating a commonality, united by football. That might sound cheesy, but it would not have been possible if England had qualified.
In the stands, away from the media tribune with its TV monitors, you have to rely on the giant TV screens for replays of key incidents during the match. But censorship, UEFA style, means that very few controversial refereeing decisions are shown. Just when TV viewers around the world are watching a tight offside call or a high tackle, the stadium screens cut to far less controversial shots of the fans. Only occasionally, if it is apparent that the referee has made the right decision, do the censors relent. They did this with an extravagant dive from David Villa against Italy, as if to say: “Ha! We told you so!”
But most of the time, they don’t have the guts to let the fans see what the rest of the world is seeing.