The Story of Turkey's Magical Euro 2008
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The Story of Turkey's Magical Euro 2008

25/06/24 16:25

Euro 2008 semi-finalist Colin Kazim-Richards described the tournament as an “awakening” and a “coming of age” for him, and opened up on how it feels to make a deep run at a major international tournament.

Coming off the back of an impressive season with his club Fenerbahce in a campaign where he played 43 times and scored against Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League quarter final, Kazim Richards was selected to represent his country at that summer's Euros hosted across Austria and Switzerland.

With just five days between the end of the club season and the start of the Euro’s training camp, Kazim-Richards said he personally liked going straight into the tournament, rather than be given a week or two break that some players experienced before the start of this summer's tournament, to avoid the risk of becoming unfocused.

However, he did say that with such an immediate move from club to international football, managers would need to make certain compromises: “Whoever is the coach of the national team has to understand that the families need to come, players need to see their kids, maybe have your family the other side of the hotel.”

Fortunately, Fatih Terim, the Turkish coach at the time, understood the players' situations perfectly.

“He was very good at that. His man to man management was second to none,” said Kazim Richards. “People take that he is a disciplinarian, right, a dictator or something. He does that to put all the pressure on him, but behind the scenes, he understands, he says ‘have a rest day, see your kids, take your kids to the waterpark’ he’s very good at that.”

When the group stage eventually kicked off, Turkey were drawn alongside a very strong Portugal side, the Czech Republic and co-hosts Switzerland in group A. Turkey were given dark horse shouts prior to the tournament, and were certainly considered to have half a chance of qualifying for the quarter finals behind Portugal, which they duly did.

But it was the manner of how they did it which shocked European football.

“What we did, and the way we did it, I don’t think anyone really expected,” said Kazim-Richards. He also highlighted the importance of the high proportion of Turkish migrants who live in Germany and Austria to this day, and compared their group game against Switzerland to a home game: “We played against Switzerland, and three quarters of the stadium was Turkish, they were even in with the Swiss fans!”

“Turkish fans, they make the national team in the stadium feel like you are playing club football. It’s one of the few national teams that have that.”

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Acknowledging the huge support they would garner prior to the tournament, Turkey went into every game with the “mindset to win”, and after hitting a speed bump in their first game with a 2-0 defeat to Portugal, they duly started to.

In the game against Switzerland, they were dominated in a first period heavily influenced by torrential rain, and Keeper Volkan Demirel had to make multiple superb saves to keep the difference to one goal. Turkey were brave, perhaps even reckless in throwing men forwards in the second half, but their risk found reward when Semih Senturk headed home just before the hour mark. Untitled design.jpg

However, Turkey needed to win to stay in with a chance of qualifying, and continued to commit men forwards, leaving themselves open a number of times to counter attacks. But Switzerland were wasteful and in the 92nd minute of time, Turkey’s gamble finally paid off, when Arda Turan scored a deflected effort from the edge of the box to spark wild scenes on and off the pitch.

Incredibly, the next game was even more dramatic. In a ‘winner qualifies’ face-off, Turkey now faced the Czech Republic, with a win guaranteed to take either side to the quarter finals. However, by the time the hour mark rolled into view, the Czechs were 2-0 up and looking solid.

“It was more a ‘yeah we should’ve concentrated a bit more at the start,’” said Kazim-Richards, “and takes us to get slapped in the face a little bit to wake up.”

And wake up they did. With 15 minutes to play, Arda Turan, the hero from the game against Switzerland, gave them a glimmer of hope after tidily finishing past Chelsea legend Petr Cech in goal, who then in the 87th minute spilled the ball to the feet of Nihat Kahveci who prodded home for a dramatic late equalizer.

And yet drama was still yet to peak, as two minutes later, Nihat was threaded through on goal, and with the confidence of a veteran used to the big stage, rattled the ball over Cech and in off the crossbar. Queue more wild scenes. Untitled design (1).jpg

Goalkeeper Volkan even managed to get sent off in added time, but this didn't affect the scoreline, and Turkey had crafted an opportunity for themselves to make their first deep run at a Euro’s tournament.

“It's easier to come out of the groups now, compared to when we were qualifying,” said Kazim-Richards, referring to the 4 group layout that was in place in 2008 instead of the 6 groups that now exist. With just the top two teams in each group going through, the tournament skipped the round of 16 matches and went straight into the quarter finals with 8 teams remaining.

Turkey’s quarter final draw found them pitted against a sparkling Croatia team that had topped Group B, beating Poland, Austria, and contenders Germany in the process. For whichever nation came out victorious, they would play in their first ever Euro semi final match. Stakes couldn’t possibly get higher.

Kazim-Richards, who started the game, found out pretty quickly that the Croats were a force to be reckoned with: “That was a tough game. No matter what we did, they matched us or bettered us. During the 90 minutes they were the better team. They have a tough mentality and are not afraid to lose.”

The game certainly reflected those sentiments, as Croatia dominated possession, shots, and offensive actions throughout the game. Despite this, Turkey held them at arm's length and forced extra time. The game continued in this vein, with Croatia pushing back the Turkish side until they could fire a shot at replacement goalkeeper Rustu Recber, who had made a couple of outstanding saves in normal time.

But the 35-year-old keeper let down his guard at the worst possible time, when in the 119th minute, he misjudged a ball and found himself out of position for Luka Modric’s cross which was headed home by substitute Ivan Klasnic to all but end Turkey’s hopes of a semi final against Germany. Untitled design.jpg

Turkish hearts were broken. There was virtually no time left, just additional moments that were awarded following the lengthy Croatian celebrations. However, Turkey had a plan. Rustu, looking to redeem himself, pumped a long ball up into the Croatian box in a desperate last attempt to equalize. The ball ricochets a couple of times before falling to Semih Senturk, who with no backlift whatsoever, rifles the ball into the roof of the net. Queue the most chaotic scenes yet. The time on the clock is 120+2, and Turkey have somehow clawed their way back yet again.

What is more, they had by far the cooler heads in the shootout, scoring all four they stepped to, while now legendary midfielders Modric and Rakitic missing the target completely. The final kick came to Mladen Petric, who saw it saved by Rustu in goal, completing his redemption arc, and in the process, send Turkey to their first ever Euro semi final.

“I knew we’d win (the shootout),” reflected Kazim-Richards. “Because we broke their hearts. They just dropped to the floor (after the goal).”

Turkey now faced the menacing prospect of Germany looming ahead of them, fresh off the back of beating Portugal 3-2 in their quarter-final, and according to Kazim-Richards, an “on fire’ Lukas Podolski. But by the time kick-off arrived, there were bad omens emerging for Turkey, who only had 13 available players for the game, those missing being absent through injury and suspension.

And yet Turkey absolutely dominated from the first whistle to the last, and Kazim-Richards was playing with a point to prove, hitting the crossbar twice within the first 20 minutes. The second of these ricocheted to Ugur Boral, who squeezed the ball under Jens Lehmann’s legs to give Turkey a shock lead.

“I watched it the other day, and I just wish that one had went in,” he said. “But we scored from it, it was nice. He (Boral) ran off like he’d scored a worldie!”

But, unsurprisingly, Turkey refused to lie down, and seven minutes later, Semih Senturk had prodded in his third goal of the tournament and hauled Turkey back level again. It seemed written in the stars that the Turks would somehow find another dramatic way to advance again, but they had finally reached the end of the road.

Bang on the 90 minute mark, Philip Lahm made a superb late run into the box and finished brilliantly into the near top corner to finally put Turkey down. What is more, Kazim-Richards believes he is at fault for Lahm’s winner.

“It was a mistake,” he said: “Lahm is what? Left back. What foot is he? Right footed. So it’s a mistake by me because I let him cut inside. If I had just showed him down the line, Im’ not saying he wouldn’t have crossed and Germany score, but it would’ve been much more difficult and he would have probably just passed it out or whatever.”

In trying to change direction to stop Lahm running in-field, Kazim Richards twists his ankle and goes down, meaning that suddenly, Lahm has no one tracking him, and that is why he was able to get into the box and score unmarked. Kazim-Richards is at least not entirely at fault, with factors out of his control taking over at the critical moment.

Although they were narrowly defeated, Kazim-Richards maintained that they would have given Spain a run for their money had they reached the final: “I honestly believe if we had got through that game and played Spain, even though Spain were amazing, the best team at that tournament, we wouldn’t have got beaten like that (Germany were dominated in the final). It wasn’t meant to be but it was a great tournament.”

Though Turkey couldn’t complete the miracle and go all the way, their dramatic, feel-good story has resonated in tournaments since, and every smaller team coming into any major tournament needs to take a closer look at the Turkish template and attitude should they want to increase their hopes of success.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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