25 June, 2008

Germany's Lahm plays the Lion in Euro-Cup Semifinal Victory

Few expected Turkey to make it to these semifinals, in Basel, Switzerland, against a tournament tested German team. Germany led the head-to-head battle between these two countries 11-3-3, though Turkey had won two of the last three meetings. Further, with four players suspended and five players unable to take the pitch due to injury, including starting goalie Volkan Demirel, captain Nihat Kahveci, and midfielder Arda Turan, the Turks were going to have a very hard time overcoming the odds and booking another historic victory in these European Championships. It is important to note that other than Nihat (2) and Arda (2), there was only one other Turkish player who found the back of the net before today's match, that man was Semih Senturk who also accounted for two scores.

Even after all of these statistics are taken into account the game still has to be played, as they say, and what an exciting game it turned out to be.

The Turkish team showed the world that they were not listening to all the chatter when they once again got a fortunate ball off of the crossbar, which landed on the foot of Ugur Boral before being slipped gingerly past the German keeper Jens Lehmann in the 22nd minute; a soft shot that most will admit he should have made a much better play on.

From here, it was noted that only five teams have ever come back after trailing by a single goal in the European Championships; two of these were scored in extra time, while two of those games were decided on penalty kicks.

Germany wouldn't stay down for long though, when just four minutes later (26') Lukas Podolski made a quick move and low cross that once again found the boot of Bastian Schweinsteiger for the second time of the tournament and the second time in just as many games, evening the score at one all. This score would bring both teams into the second half, where the majority of their goals had been scored. This tournament, Germany had scored five of it's eight goals in the last 45 minutes of play; while Turkey had also netted more of it's goals after halftime, coming out of the locker room and scoring six of their seven goals.

Play resumed with Germany seeming to be better rested after the half. It seemed that the untested Turkey squad was losing their legs much more quickly than their German counterparts, and this was most expressed in a dicey tackle from Sabri Sarioglu on Philipp Lahm in the corner of the penalty area at the 51st minute; the Turks were fortunate, though, when no call was made by the referees and play continued.

During one of three weather related television blackouts, Lahm got his first taste of redemption for the non-call when he made a decisive cross across the pitch. The ball was badly misjudged by Turkey's back-up keeper, Rustu Recber, and was finished into the open net with a strong header by Miroslav Klose. This goal, in the 79th minute, was a much needed lift for the German squad; and for Klose, who was the leading scorer for the team in the last World Cup but had been much of a non-factor in these European Championships.

As has been the story of this tournament, Turkey would not give up. In the 86th minute, Sabri once again opened up Lahm down the sideline and played a strong low cross towards the net. It seemed that Lehmann had it all sized up when the man dubbed 'the life-guard', Semih Senturk, came swooping in and tipped the ball past the frozen German keeper on the short post side. Once again, it seemed that Turkey was making history.

This proved to not be the case though. As the game wore down, Germany did the same to the Turkish defense. In the 90th minute of play, just as it seemed that extra-time was once again in the cards, Lahm made a slicing run through the Turkish defense, playing a quick one-two with Thomas Hitzlsperger, and found himself one on one with Rustu. He would not falter, driving a wicked shot into the top right corner, ending the Turkish dream of a European Championship final and bringing elation to the German players and fans.

This, like many of the games played during this tournament, was one for the ages and showed just how exciting this game of football can be; it clearly exemplified why the world calls it 'the beautiful game.'

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