What a crazy crazy night. A great great semi final and a whole world deprived. As Germany managed to finally close out a game where the Turks weren’t the last to score, people across the world missed most of a stunning second half with TV signals gone due to some lightning strike at the Basel stadium.
But that came later. Blessed with the luxury of not having to make too many team selection decisions, Fatih Terim spent his time preparing the 11 who were fit and/or eligible to start in the best possible manner. The Turkish starting eleven consisted of 10 players who play in Turkish league clubs and Hamit Altintop. Two of their back four (Sabri and Topal) definitely would have preferred to play further up-field. But none of that seemed to matter.
Definitely not through all of the first half. The Turks took the ball and each man bar Rustu pushed forward. Almost. A typical Turk move consisted of either a series of short passes which moved the ball sideways and forward or a brilliant diagonal ball from the middle towards the flank. Then when they got near the by-line, a cross would be delivered. When they got to the edge of the box, they would look to shoot. There was no fear, no holding back.
It’s difficult to pick out individuals for praise. Kazim Kazim troubled anyone who got close to him and should have scored two, though the second time he hit the bar, Boral was at hand to equalize. Aurelio marked Ballack out, won the ball, carried it forward and made passes, Altintop was on the ball every 10 seconds or so, Sabri was making the smartest forward runs leaving Lahm stranded, Boral was sending in dangerous crosses and making Lehman work, Senturk was at times available deeper to pass the ball to oncoming teammates or in the box looking for crosses or shooting chances, Akman was working as hard as anyone else and the it goes on.
The thing is that in this first half, the Turks played to the best of their ability. The passes were flowing, the marking was amazing, the runs were everywhere and there was always a free teammate around. The work rate was unbelievable and each player ran a marathon sprinting half the way.
The Germans set out like they had against Portugal but got blown away. When they were on the ball which was rare, the Turks would just ease them off it or very often they would voluntarily give it away.
At least Schweinsteiger, Ballack and to an extent Rolfes and Podolski were half-decent when they had the ball. Off the ball, the Germans were just pathetic. They didn’t try and cut out passes, they did not press hard enough when a Turkish player moved with the ball, they got caught out of position (Lahm) a number of times and they failed to do the basics in the box. For the first Turkish goal, you just have to look at how late Friedrich reacted to the ball coming back off the bar in comparison to Boral.
Nor were they able to hit the Turks on the break. The only time they did that was at 1-1 when Podolski got a free run on to Rustu but somehow there was no goal.
That the Germans still went into half-time on par with the Turks probably explains why they have been such super powers of football all along. Turkey had to make their domination count and faced against opposition such as the Germans, just one goal was never enough return for superiority of such proportions. And Germany by making their only good move count, in one moment just shrugged off all the dominance and battering and gained parity. Efficient – what a cliché, what a fact.
The big question for the second half was Turkey’s ability to carry on with the blissful display of football. How soon would they tire and would they be able to do enough damage by then? Would Germany just wait patiently for the Turks to run out of breath and then go for the kill or would J Low make immediate changes to turn things around?
Well it never goes to plan. For starters the second half was seen by TV audiences worldwide in fits and starts so it is not known if we’ll ever see the full story of the half. Moreover, everytime the pictures did come, the game seemed to have changed hands. Immediately at the start of the second it was the Germans who looked better with the Turks having lost a little bit of the touch. Then when we saw things live next, it was Turkey yet again in first-half mode and then a brief two minutes of drama in which Turkey pulled it back to 2-2 (Klose had secretly given the Germans the lead) and then Lahm suddenly shot up the player ratings with a move and finish of brilliance to finally give the Germans a second 3-2 win in a row.
The Turks are out but they’ll not be forgotten. Three successful comebacks and one very successful threat of a comeback. Too bad it was not to be. They would have brought a lot more excitement to the final than the Germans I think, who will prefer to raise their game as and when needed. I know the comebacks will be talked about but there is another aspect to the Turkish display – the ability of all players to play at their best at the same time. The Germans may have gotten by on some amazing moments of individual brilliance and the ability to exploit mistakes and grasp opportunities, but player-on-player more Turks will go back thinking that they played the game of their lives. And credit to Fatih Terim that they did so not once but over and over again.
The Germans are through to the final and this makes half of my pre-tournament prediction true (I had Russia v/s Germany in...I swear). They have been winning and they have been involved in high-scoring games, but I think their best display was against Poland and they have never reached those standards. From a team perspective, I find their defence suspect, especially Mertesacker. Friedrich does not get forward enough and Lahm who does, had a horror show defensively today. He did make up for it though.
J Low will not have to change much irrespective of who he faces in the final. He will depend on a solid defence (which was not so solid tonight), and then the individual brilliance of any one of Shweinsteiger (who was Germany’s best player again tonight), Podolski , Klose or Ballack or maybe even a combination of these players to get him the goals. And one or more will. They are like that – these Germans.