Thursday, June 26, 2008

More drama in Basel as Turkey bows out

As a sports fan, this point in time of the calendar year usually becomes what I like to call "the dead zone." The NBA and NHL have both recently wrapped up. The NFL has long since finished. Baseball is still in the pre-All Star Game doldrums and by the time the games start to have any meaning, all of the other major sports have started back up. Even as much I've gotten into international soccer in recent years, most of the European club leagues finish their seasons in May.

But thanks to some unknown heroes at ESPN, I have not had that same problem this year due to the fact that the entire 2008 European soccer championships are being televised in the United States. This was such an unexpected development that there was actually a plan in the works at one point to actually travel to Austria and/or Switzerland, where this year's tournament is being co-hosted, in order to catch some of the action. It never occurred to me that I would be able to watch all of the games on TV. Not once.

Four years ago, the games were only available on pay-per-view for somewhere in the region of $20 to $30 per game. I also recall that JJ happened to be vacationing in Montreal with his family during Euro 2004 and how jealous I was that he got to see even a minute of the action on TV. In four short years, every single game has been shown on some form of ESPN and even featured on ABC over the weekend. This is huge progress for soccer in this country.

As for the games, each one has just been more riveting than the last. Yesterday's semifinal was no exception. Germany faced Turkey, with each trying to book a place in the final. The Germans had been here many times before, while Turkey pulled off one unexpected victory after another en route to their first-ever Euro semifinal, with three come-from-behind wins in a row. Turkey was also missing several starters due to injury or suspension, including their keeper and in my opinion, the player of the tournament to this point, the influential Nihat Kahveci. 

So it made perfect sense when they took the lead over heavily-favored Germany about 20 minutes in.  

After hitting the crossbar a few minutes earlier, Turkey neatly played a cross in from the right after a throw-in, a looping shot from the center again crashed against the bar only this time it fell right to Ugur Boral, whose scuffed shot snuck underneath German goalie Jens Lehmann. 1-0, Turkey.

Turkey's shock lead only lasted for five minutes though as Germany equalized through Bastian Schweinsteiger. By this point, I only considered Turkey's fast start against mightily-stacked odds "a shock" because they hadn't waited until the last 15 minutes of the game to pull off their miracle. However, at 1-1 going into the half it was clear that anything could happen and that Turkey would not go down without a serious fight.

Germany would score a go-ahead goal in the 79th minute on a textbook Miroslav Klose header after a nice run and cross from Philip Lahm. But as they had done in each of the last three games, with their tournament lives in the balance, Semih Senturk deflected a shot at the near post and past Lehmann again in the 86th minute. Absoultely unbelievable. In a strange way, the more you see the Turks pull off something unexpected, the harder it truly is to see it coming yet again! So with such a late equalizer it's now EVEN MORE OBVIOUS that Turkey is a team of destiny and simply will not lose and with the prospect of extra time looming... Lahm unleashes a devastating shot into the top corner. Germany 3, Turkey 2, and so would end an amazing run from this team.

You clearly had to feel for the Turks. To battle back so many times and show such resilience without anything to show for it is definitely a shame. Credit is due to Germany though and it's on to a sixth Euro final for them, more than any other country in the history of the tournament. The only downside of the match was the worldwide live feed being knocked out multiple times by lightning, causing the live audience to miss Klose and Senturk's goals, as well as the final whistle. That being said, this post goes out to Turkey who were without a doubt the story of the tournament and always incredibly fun to watch.

Today's game features the other underdog of Euro 2008, Russia, as they take on Spain in what should be another fantastic game. Russia's Andrei Arshavin has been a revelation and has led the team farther than it's been in this competition since the dissolution of the Soviet Union (not exaggerating). Meanwhile, Spain has done well to disprove its reputation for underachieving and has done so playing a stylish, attacking brand of soccer you may have read about. Soccernet also has an interesting opinion piece about how nationalistic stereotypes are disappearing on the soccer pitch (i.e. the technical Germans, the underachieving Spanish, the diving Italians). 

My money is on Spain to pull it out 2-1, but if there is anything this tournament has taught us, it's to truly expect the unexpected.

1 comment:

  1. A wild game to say the least... Today I could really go either way, but I think it might get a little crazy.

    Let's go with a 4-3 Russia win in extra time.

    Oh yeah, and as far as bullshit goes, my actual money was on Turkey at their 7-1 odds, so I'm highly pissed at the outcome. If they'd pulled that one off the palace at 5th and Upshur might have started to live up to it's name.