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Turkey seeks more thrills

Euro 2008 semifinal game against Germany comes on the heels of three last-gasp wins.

June 25, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Turkey, the great escape artist of soccer's European Championship, will try again to conjure a miracle when it plays Germany today in the first semifinal at St Jakob Park at Basel, Switzerland.

Three times in the tournament the Turks have been able to achieve the extraordinary. Consider:

They were tied with Switzerland and seconds away from elimination after their opening loss to Portugal when Arda Turan scored a winning goal two minutes into injury time.

They were losing to the Czech Republic and again staring at an early exit when Nihat Kahveci scored two goals in the last three minutes to win the game.

They were losing to Croatia, which had scored in the next-to-last minute of overtime, when Semih Senturk scored with literally the last kick to tie the quarterfinal game. Turkey then advanced on penalty kicks.

Now, tournament favorite and three-time champion Germany stands between Coach Fatih Terim's never-say-die team and a historic first appearance in a European Championship final.

If the Turks somehow manage to pull off a victory it would be truly amazing because their stunning run through the tournament has decimated their ranks. Of their original 23 players, five are out because of injuries and four are suspended.

That leaves Terim with only 14 potential starters and has caused him to seriously consider using a backup goalkeeper as a field player if necessary -- something unheard of at this level of competition.

"Sure, we have a lot of good players out with injuries and we face a formidable opponent in Germany," said Kahveci, one of those injured. "But the players who will be asked to come on will be good because this team fears nothing. They have to be good because we have no other choice."

Germany Coach Joachim "Jogi" Loew knows all about the Turks. Earlier in his career he coached two Turkish clubs.

"We are all familiar with the way Turkey plays, they can always claw a goal back," Loew said earlier this week. "That just seems to give them renewed energy late in the game, which is deadly for their opponents. . . . They go the distance, propelled by a strong national pride."

Pride and the man known in every sidewalk cafe from Istanbul to Izmir as "Imparator" -- the Emperor. Terim's players have absolute faith in him.

"Our coach is incredible, he doesn't let you get your head down," said English-born forward Colin Kazim-Richards. "When you get your head down he shouts at you straight away, and believe me, when that man shouts, you look. He's all about belief."

Terim said at a news conference Tuesday that what Turkey had achieved is nothing exceptional.

"As far as I know, there are three results you can get in football," he said. "There is no result called 'miracle' in football."

From a tactical standpoint, the game matches German pedigree and power against Turkish will and, well, more will.

Germany, which lost to Croatia but defeated Poland, Austria and Portugal en route to the semifinals, probably will pressure the Turks from the start, employing the likes of Miroslav Klose, Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

"It's important that we get our running patterns and movement off the ball right," Loew said.

For Terim, it's a lot easier. He just has to find 11 healthy players to put on the field and then remind them of what Turkey already has accomplished.

"You should never give up until the very end, until the referee blows the final whistle," he said. "That is why football is an interesting game."

Jones reported from Los Angeles.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

European champs

*--* YEAR WINNER RUNNER-UP 1960 Soviet Union Yugoslavia 1964 Spain Soviet Union 1968 Italy Yugoslavia 1972 West Germany Soviet Union 1976 Czechoslovakia West Germany 1980 West Germany Belgium 1984 France Spain 1988 Netherlands Soviet Union 1992 Denmark Germany 1996 Germany Czech Republic 2000 France Italy 2004 Greece Portugal *--*

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