Forgive me if my memory from that night in Frankfurt, Germany two years ago is a little hazy. It definitely included conversations with members of Germany’s Stampede Wrestling Federation. And yes, the Gypsy Kings, “Volare” blared over the speakers on repeat. There may or may not have been an appearance on Argentina television. Oh yes, a ton of that nectar from on high – Apfelwein.
From recesses of that cidery-sweet buzz, one other memory drifts back from that evening at the Frankfurt Fan Fest, a couple teenagers with mohawks wearing sleeveless “New Türkiye” shirts, with the Turkish flag superimposed over Germany.
The reason this bears any significance whatsoever is today Germany and Turkey play in the Euro 2008 semifinals. Like most Americans, you might not know roughly 2.7 million people of Turkish descent reside in Deutschland. Most entered Germany as ‘guest workers’ in the 1950s, as the nation dug out from World War II.
Moreover, two players in the Turkish team — Hakan Balta and Hamit Altıntop — were both born in Germany. On top of that, a lot of the members of the German U-23 and U-21 teams are of Turkish descent.
Now I’m not a sociologist, and my grasp of the German language is limited to a few key phrases such as, “Damit können Sei bei mir nicht landen.” (That cuts no ice with me). And “Ich möchte keine Bluttransfusion” (I don’t want a blood transfusion). That makes it hard to make any concrete statements about what this match means to the overall German population.
I’d guess that like the majority of Mexican-Americans who root for Mexico rather than the U.S. national team, the ethnic Turks in Germany will likely support the guys in red. (Yes, comparing the German national team to the U.S. national team is like comparing ‘Caddyshack’ to ‘The Love Guru.’) Not sure what this all means to us in the States, but it does add a little extra intrigue.
Suffice to say, all the nation-wide viewings and Fan Zones could be a little tenser than usual, that is, unless the Apfelwein is flowing.
Today’s game: Euro 2008 semifinal No. 1, Germany v. Turkey, St. Jakob Park, Basel, Switzerland (2:30, ESPN): As you’ve probably read over the last couple days, Turkey is extremely neutered due to suspensions (Volkan Demirel, Tuncay Sanli, Arda Turan, Emre Asik) and injuries (Servet Çetin, Nihat, Emre Belozoglu). That leaves a matchup on paper that favors Germany in every single possible category, well, except for karma department and maybe chest hair.
Head-to-head: Germany leads the all-time series 11-3-3, outscoring the Turks 40 to 10. Turkey won the last encounter in an October 2005 friendly 2-1 via the DFB website.
Coaches: Here might be the Turks’ other advantage, in Fatih Terim Turkey have a classic ‘strongman’ who’s fierce eyebrows are enough to inspire a team to victory, and more than make up for the lack of a ‘buffo’ style mustache. Terim’s best moments at the Euro have come throwing caution into the wind and attacking at all costs. With most of his attacks missing, with Terim break the mold and go all defense? He did spend a little time coaching in Italy around the turn of the century. The Turks aren’t going to give up, as long as ‘The Emperor’ roams the touchline.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Joachim Löw looks more like a guy you can bum a cig off outside a rock club on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. Kidding aside, Löw’s been very tactically astute, changing things up for the quarterfinal win over Portugal. Maybe Löw’s only instructions vs. Turkey are to keep playing for 90 minutes and not to get caught on a counterattack.
Questions: Will Turkey’s magic continue? … Will Turkey have enough healthy players to keep it competitive? And do those healthy players have any juice left after two consecutive epic matches? Can Rüştü Reçber survive a constant German onslaught? … Can Herr Ballack spur his team to victory, again? … Will Turkey be able to keep Germany off the scoresheet? … Will Bifi Schweinsteiger get a pregame pep talk from German Chancellor Angela Merkel? … Will Germany (2-to-5 favorites) enter the game overconfident and get frustrated if they don’t score within the first 15 minutes? … Honestly, is there any way Turkey can spring the upset barring the destiny cliché? … Is any pundit tipping Turkey for the final? … Is thinking Germany will stroll through this game, so obvious that it’s not going to go to script?
Key matchup: Philipp Lahm/Lukas Podolski vs. Hamit Altintop. The three are, for the time being, club teammates at Bayern Munich. As seen against Portugal, Germany started most of their attacks on the left side. Altintop has played right back, but could be anywhere on the right considering Turkey’s desperate situation. Altintop has played well going forward and has a booming shot, but against the quickness of the Germans his defensive shortcoming could be exposed.
Player to watch Germany: Miroslav Klose. The Bayern striker only has one goal to his name at the Euro. Against a relatively inexperienced Turkish defense the 2005 World Cup Golden Boot winner should be able to poach at least one tally. According to one betting site, both Klose and Poldoski are 6-to-5 to score in this match. Ballack is at 13-to-8. By contrast, the best odds for a Turk is Şentürk at 3-to-1. Germany’s 35-year-old reserve forward Oliver Neuville rates at 5-to-2. Suffice to say, the deck is stacked against the Turks.
Player to watch Turkey: Semih Şentürk. The Turkish league’s leading scorer scored what will likely be remembered as the biggest goal in the history of the country in the 122nd minute vs. Croatia on Friday. The Fenerbahçe hitman has already bagged a pair of goals in the tournament, but the other two Turkey goalscorers – Nihat and Arda – will not play. Barring an unlikely 0-0 win through penalties, Şentürk has to find the net today.
Outlook: For what it’s worth, Germany is 4-1 in European Championship semifinal matches. The Germans are used to playing the favorite and should simply pound away at the makeshift Turkish lineup until breaking through. Germany, like everyone, has seen the Turkish resolve and ability to comeback and it could be said that the Germans had to hang on for dear life against Portugal. Still, Germany won’t be comfortable up 2-0 or even 3-0 and this game has the potential to get pretty lopsided. Even if they lose Wednesday, the Turkish run in this tournament could possibly outshine the eventual champions. As we all know, Germany, like Cheese Wagstaff, doesn’t care for sentiment and nostalgia. The Turks fall on their swords once and for all. … Germany 4, Turkey 1