June 24 – 2008
Little over a day out from the semis and my quarterfinal buzz still hasn’t faded. Russia have stolen my heart, Germany and Spain have earned my respect, and Turkey have caused me to question the true nature of the cosmos. Honestly: Have you ever seen anything like their comeback against Croatia? I haven’t.
I know nothing of Turkey. I know nothing of Turks. And whereas I usually rely on ethnic stereotyping to explain success (”Those Germans – so efficient!”), in the Turk’s case I’ve got nothing.
Therefore, we might have to come up with some actual reasons why Turkey are able to continually fashion improbable victories from certain defeat. If you will:
- They know they are bad. As a result, they seem totally prepared to weather long stretches of the game in which the ball rarely leaves their own penalty area, let alone their own half. They don’t fray at the edges under the pounding, and they don’t turn on each other – they just take the abuse. Once the other team lets up, Turkey don’t even need time to regroup; they transition seamlessly from poundee to pounder.
- They hit the ball on target. From what I can gather, Turkish children split their time equally between prayer and finishing drills. I’d be surprised if there were another team at Euro 2008 with a higher proportion of shots on goal. When they get chances, they make good.
- They are fit. You can’t produce last minute heroics without legs under you. In every match, Turkey seem as lively in the final moments, if not livelier, than they do in the first moments of the match. In the Czech Republic game, the Turks literally looked like they could go another hour, while the Czechs were over it after 80 minutes.
- They are desperate. All but twelve of Turkey’s players are now injured, suspended, or both. The result is an “all hands on deck” mentality that places the survival of the team above all else. Just fielding a team is an exercise in courage.
- They pursue the ball. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
- They don’t quit. Painfully fucking obvious, I know, but Turkey really do believe that the game should be played to the final whistle. Watch the replays of the Croatian goal celebrations: those guys won, the game was over, and they knew it. Luka Modric was elated, collapsed to the ground, and started thinking about the semis where they would face a team they had already beaten. Slaven Bilic was ready to do some drugs and bang some metal groupies. Croatia was in the dressing room. Turkey? They were looking to get the ball forward. And score.
- Their coach, though needing to fasten a button or two, has his players ears. Scorer of two game-winners now, supersub Semih Senturk said of coach Fatih Terim, “Our coach treats every player like he is their father…When he comes to me he says ‘just play football, I know your talents’. He is the best coach I have ever worked with.” That level of respect can squeeze every last drop out of a performance.
That’s a start. And while I don’t have any stereotypes to fall back on, I do have wikipedia: it says that Turkey have been fighting with Greece for over 1000 years. Apparently the national hatred runs deep enough to cause Turks to, even today, youtube low production value hate-videos with atrocious spelling and Smurf-techno scores. Maybe it’s hatred for the Greeks that gives the Turks that extra push against their opponents. Regardless, it’s been a fun ride, but I’m betting the machine like, scat-porn loving Germans end this Turkish fairytale.