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Nigeria meet Benin in WAFU Cup semi final


How 'Those Crazy Turks' got so far

In a tranquil German village called Marienfeld, the Turkish national team is preparing for its return to the international stage after six years of frustrated absence. Things aren't looking promising for Fatih Terim however, as Gökhan Gönül, undoubtedly the best Turkish player of the season, is written off for the championships due to a metatarsal injury.

'I won't be calling up a replacement', says Terim. Has he gone insane?

Quite possibly. In fact, before the tournament even commenced, 'The Crazy Turks' was a slogan that virally caught on in Turkey.

Inspired by the bestselling book titled 'Su Çilgin Türkler', meaning 'Those Crazy Turks', a compilation of heroic accounts from the years Turkey was under occupation after the First World War, the media and practically every business that had a budget to advertise was capitalising on Turkey's new tag. And that was before the crazy expedition to Austria and Switzerland had even kicked off.

When Terim and his assistants sat down to select the final unit to travel to Switzerland, Hamit Altintop's name was scribbled down, the Bayern Munich man having just made it after a long lasting injury.

Emre Belözoglu was in despite hardly featuring for Newcastle United all season.

Servet Çetin, known among fans as 'the octopus' for his irregular mode of travel on the football pitch, was again a half-fit inclusion. To the shock of many and whilst the wounded were being called up for battle, Hamit's brother Halil was told to go home, together with another Germanic Turk in Yildiray Bastürk,

Terim was asking for trouble, according to a huge proportion of the Turkish sports media.

Another battle was to be fought between Terim and the journalists attending those press conferences in Germany and then in Switzerland and Austria.

'Criticisms are reaching the point of insult', said Terim in one of them, but were they really that ruthless towards the man who took Galatasaray to UEFA Cup euphoria in 2000?

Quite frankly; no. The problem was Terim's ego - his unstoppable imposition of persona on a nation that, probably in his opinion, should be worshipping him collectively and not questioning a single step that he takes in his managerial career.

Why not? After all, he had managed AC Milan for a whole five months.

Despite all his flaws (don't tell him that), Terim is quite possibly the only man in the world that could have taken Turkey to the semi finals of the European Championships.

Turkish players, or indeed Turkish people, are reactive by nature. They will look to a collective spirit, whether it be the fans, the president, or the coach for inspiration and energy. Terim accumulates his inner frustration, his burning desire to win and a fearless attitude to morph into a 'hairdryer' in the dressing room.

Through Terim, the Turkish footballer finds belief. It's only a recent phenomenon that Turkish players are beginning to make it abroad on an individual level, without having to rely on others for emotional support.

Tactically, Terim started the tournament poorly. Against Portugal, he introduced a brand new system for Turkey, based on the success of Luciano Spalletti's Roma and Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United.

He played quick, ball carrying forwards with Nihat Kahveci being the upper point of the attacking triangle. Mevlüt Erdinç, a complete unknown for Turks as he plays his football in France, was placed in an outside right position, with Tuncay, a chronic back-heeler, on the left side. Both were hopeless at penetrating Portugal's defence as Terim had hoped.

A lack of possession meant Portugal were given free rein. Many were unsure about Servet before the tournament, but he played a steady game in defence, seemingly able to defend against much pacier opponents.

Hamit, without his twin brother with him, was pinned at right back for the whole of the Portugal clash. A man who plays on the right and in central midfield for Bayern Munich was being called to stand in for the injured Gökhan. He was to remain there, quietly, disciplined, playing with superb character.

Then the heavens opened in Basel. With one of the most dramatic changes in conditions perhaps football has ever seen, the Switzerland - Turkey game progressed to take its place in Turkish history next to the great tales of the Dardanelles.

Until the rain had come down, Turkey played an assured passing game which completely outfoxed the hosts, who looked at the three Turkish natives in their own line-up for inspiration.

With a score to settle from two years ago, Turkey were strong and aggressive. The Turkish pundits were now positively surprised. Looking at the desire that Terim had instilled in the team, the second half comeback was in fact inevitable, as the pitch dried up and brought back normality to the game.

Terim had to toughen up the midfield and provide presence up front. He did exactly that by putting Semih Sentürk next to Nihat and taking lightweight Tümer Metin off for Mehmet Topal in midfield. The star of the game, Arda Turan, assisted Semih's equaliser and went on to score the winner in the final minute.

Terim said after the game: 'We had said our tournament started with this match.'

As the squad became overstretched due to Emre and Gökhan's injuries, another motivational factor emerged for Terim to utilise. The Turks of the early nineties would have used absences as an excuse for failure, forgetting the fighting spirit of their ancestors, but self-confidence brought in by largely foreign managers with their local assistants, as Terim started out, laid the foundations for Turkish football's strengths to flourish.

It was this very outlook that won the Czech Republic game. Having the confidence to defend by way of attack was absolutely pivotal. Turkey mastered the art of covering up its weaknesses.

That wouldn't be enough on its own, of course. Hamit availed himself of being right-back, and installed himself in midfield for those spectacular last 15 minutes, in which he assisted all three of Turkey's goals, creating the miracle of Geneva himself.

It also still remains a mystery as to why Karel Brückner insisted on keeping ailing Jan Koller up front towards the end of the game, when a single speedy forward like Milan Baros would've split the Turkish defence wide open. Just like Petr Cech's butter-fingers, Brückner's reluctance to make that change was fortunate for Turkey.

Had it not been for Volkan Demirel losing his cool, the first-choice goalkeeper would've played in the quarter final and the semi final, both of which would not have panned out the way they did with Rüstü Reçber's antics.

Volkan was once told to 'quit using hairgel' by former Fenerbahçe great Can Bartu who felt he was not throwing his presence around on the goalline enough for his club.

Volkan now has a buzz cut, but instead he finds pleasure in tipping over men that measure at two metres and expecting it to go unnoticed by the referees. One thing that Terim failed to get across his players was that they shouldn't get carded too easily. Reminding them they only had eight fit players would likely have done the trick.

But no, Turkey did it the hard way - much to the enjoyment of the world's football population, of course. But for Turks, it was heart-attack material.

Turkey was in the lead for a total of nine minutes in Euro 2008, each time giving the opponent a killer blow and bringing millions of Turks across the world back from the dead.

The debate raged on in Turkey. Should Semih start the quarter final with Croatia? Is Hamit going to play in midfield? Will he go for two strikers?

Increasingly in such situations, the Turkish football enthusiast's eyes turns to Ridvan Dilmen, a former Fenerbahçe dribbling wizard and now a frighteningly accurate pundit and co-commentator.

'This is the best team he could've picked for this game', said Dilmen. With suspensions and injuries increasing, the team probably picked itself, but Terim had to fit the jigsaw correctly.

Scoring late goals is no puzzle for Semih. For Fenerbahçe, he's been a bit-part player down the years. He's been the only product of Fener's youth system to survive among the big boys, but has always been second or third choice behind the foreign imports.

This season, due to Fenerbahçe's lack of firepower and Mateja Kezman's injury troubles, Semih was handed a chance, which he took well and ended up finishing the season as top scorer.

But still, a question mark remained over his physical ability to battle for 90 minutes. Against Germany, he started, and he was once again the man who gave hope late on.

Germans in the streets of Basel were not overly confident of reaching the final. They deemed their team lucky and many of them were no fans of their team's limp defending.

One wonders what could have happened if Nihat was fit, Arda and Tuncay weren't suspended. Let alone the fact that two central defenders were also unavailable, meaning Mehmet Topal had to move back from his usual midfield position.

A heroic effort it surely was, but the line between tournament champions and the rest is one that's clearly defined.

Largely it was Spain's first choice 11 on the podium in Vienna lifting the trophy. With just David Villa out, they were in an ideal position to demolish Germany.

Turkey are similar to Spain in style, but lack the big-match experience to keep their composure and don't have the same quality in every position.

If Turkey had made it to the final, it may have been a high scoring, end-to-end encounter.

That will probably happen when the two sidee face each other in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

As Terim has vowed to stay on until 2012, we will learn to expect the unexpected from the commander who has the right to steal the line; 'We shall never surrender.'

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