Friday, June 27, 2008

In Memoriam: Turkey

To the Turks, everything is "shurla burla", which means "like this, like that". You never know what will happen. All foreigners are "ayip", they're considered dirty.

This European championsip has been more like a film festival than a football tournament. And though there will be a winner come Sunday-- either Spain or Germany will take home the proverbial Palme d'Or-- there have been daily theatrics in the lead-up, an assortment of small wonders that certainly deserve their own prize. In a just world, where a team is rewarded in proportion to the joy they bring the fans, Turkey would return home as kings. In ours, they will have to settle for UF's footballing Prix de un Certain Regard, the award for "most innovative and audacious work" of Austria/Switzerland 2008.

Join us after the jump, where we will go on to praise, then bury Turkey.

Turkey did not belong on the field with the Germans on Wednesday night in Basel. They had no business battling back (or so we've been told and read in the papers) from a 2-1 deficit in the 86th minute. Certainly, Terim's men should have never had the opportunity to outplay Germany in the first semifinal match of the European Championship. No, they should have been eliminated long ago.


The first brush with death came in their second group stage match with hosts Switzerland. It had been an half-drab tournament to that point. No one had come from behind to win. In most of the early group stage games the only scoring had been done by the winning side.

And so it began, in the 57th minute, in front of 42,000+ at St. Jakob Park. Semih Senturk, the 25 year old Fenerbhache forward, dropped a bolt of lightning on the Swiss-- an equalizer just 11 minutes after he first crossed the touchline. It was Semih's first of the tournament and by miles his least memorable. Arda Turan would poke home the winner in stoppage time, and Turkey were on their way. A loss to Portugal firmly in the past, it was time for the Czechs and a win-or-go-home group finale.


Like Turkey, Bruckner's boys had been mollywhopped by the dazzling Portuguese and given a tough go against Switzerland. They entered the crunch match in Geneva knowing that a tie after 90 minutes would mean penalty kicks. But after 71 minutes, it all seemed an afterthought. A cananading header from the big fella Koller and a 62nd minute add-on from Plasil had certainly assured the Czechs' place. Turkey were disjointed, bordering on listless as Jan Polak smashed a cross into Volkan's left post. The Czechs were mere inches from 3-0.

That third goal would never come. Four minutes later Turkey found life as Sabri found Altintop (or "gold ball" as Tommy Smyth reminded us every 2 minutes for the entirety of the match) who found Arda Turan at the back post for the Turk's first roost of the evening. By now the rain was falling in heaps and the pitch had turned into a slip 'n' slide party. The Czechs were reserved and content to allow the likes of The Artist formerly Known as Colin Kazim-Richards to launch off speculative satellite balls from 35 yards out. Kazim was never going to hit the target and if he did, there was always the Cat in the Hat there to snip up loose ends. Into the 87th minute, we lurch forward... Terim is enraged at the shot selection and Nihat is imploring his side to (the Turkish equivalent of) "play your game."

Nihat knew that nothing was over. That on a wet pitch no keeper was infallible-- especially mercenary mug like Cech. So when ESPN camera's cut to the low angle for Altintop's whipped-in cross, there had to be doubt that any keeper could gobble it up with ease. Nihat knew it, and so he stayed in as the Czech defender began to pull out. His reward was the silver ball at his foot. A sitter he dragged into the OOS to tie it. It was 2-2, and we were headed for penalties. Surely.

Shurla Burla, indeed, as not more than three minutes later Nihat was in again. This time on a clever through ball from Tuncay-- the Czech backline frozen, thinking deeply we imagine about goal number two. He faced up with Cech to the keeper's right and from just inside the box dipped a precise strike under the crossbar. Turkey, if you could believe it, and there is no fucking way a sane man could, had won. They were going to Vienna for quarterfinal date with group winner Croatia.


Slaven Bilic's men, now the "Heroes of Klagenfurt" for their triumph over Germany just days earlier, were easy favorites to surge past an increasingly beleaguered Turkey. Injury and suspension had meant Fatih Terim would not be with his best lineup. That included goalkeeper Volkan, who would miss this match and a possible semi-final because of some tomfoolery against the Czechs.

All but two of the Turkish starting XI were on yellows as the quarterfinal kicked off. In goal was Recter Rustu, the Ottoman Jens Lehmann. Unlike their previous encounter, Turkey were more careful against the clever Croats. They would dominate possession (56% to 44%), but do little with it. We trudged on to extra-time, then a second 15 minutes.

Rustu, who had been as solid as necessary for 120 + 4 minutes, must have thought it was time for PK's as he went pranced off his line like a child. Skipping after a ball meant for Modric, he watched as the soon-to-be Spurs genius headed up and over his wandering ass and into the path of super-steady Alzonzo Mourning Klasnic. Quoteth ESPN live commentary: "Croatia have won it!" And, certainly, they had.


Shurla Burla? You never know what will happen. It's kind of like the Turkish version of "Der Ball Ist Rund," only, like, really dark and sinister. Exactly, we imagine, the kind of thoughts and feelings running through Croatia's dark heart as just seconds later ... with the referee taking one last deep breath of Vienna air... Semih Senturk played down a long, downfield prayer and lashed it across his body into the roof of Pletikosa's net.

As if there ever was a question, Croatia released its collective bowels after all but one of its PK's, allowing Turkey-- Again!!-- an unthinkable escape. Three times now, in consecutive matches, each more shocking than the last, Fatih and the fellas had prevailed against all common sense and wisdom. Their reward? Germany


As the loyal UFer might know, your humble reporter decided to attempt a little immersion trick for Wednesday's semi-final. I had hoped to liveblog the game from a nearby Turkish restaurant, but as the wireless revolution has yet to sweep into "Sahara's" on 2nd Avenue, alternative plans were engaged. The festivities were hosted by ü75, while I hustled for a table at lovely, open-air Sahara's, intent on doing some correspondent work.

The afternoon began as a Julie Foudy's face-style mess. The bar was closed down to make room for more tables-- more reserved tables. I was escorted, the palest man in the room, they "ayip," to a wraparound couch planted just precisely behind Sahara's monster flat screen HDTV. My next mistakes-- the first one being my implicit Jewyness-- were in ordering a Corona (idiot...) and offering my credit card (Teutonic surname stenciled in) to begin a tab. There was only one way out and so I flagged down the waiter and said the magic words.

"Doner Kebab... the ENTREE."

From here on out things were different. Within a minute the game had begun and I was sharing a table with a very Turkish man who knew very little English. His only words to me or anyone in the place were "In to Semih." Sage.

With UEFA's new policy of clearing the yellow card tally only after the quarterfinal, Turkey never had a chance. Volkan, Emre, Turcay, and Turan were all suspended. Nihat, a hero at St. Jakob Park a few days earlier, was out with a thigh injury. He wasn't alone.

No one in Sahara's was ready to talk about reasons why not, and if they were, I surely wouldn't have known a thing about it. The only (loud) English-speaking gentleman was seated a table over from me and I think he was partial to the Germans. I deduced this when he clapped and ran out after the game.

As for the Turkish partisans, they began with tempered glance. Calm. I was focused on the delicious doner kebab. Worth the 14 bucks, really, check it out some time.

Expectations being what they were, Kazim's rocket off the crossbar in the 13th minute set the place ablaze. The international odor of "Hey, we can beat these fuckers" was released into the room. The idle chatter finished. All were at attention. Entire families, grandmother and all, turned their seats toward the screens.

So it goes, so it goes. A half-volley off the foot of TAFKACKR hit the crossbar again before falling to Ugor Boral (who?!?), who slipped the ball through Lehmann's legs. Cue Mayhem. And a free beer, another Corona, for the Lad.

"Just shoot on that scum fucker!," I yelled at no one in particular. My companion nodded. He understood!

It was then, as the free drinks began circulating and the one woman younger than 50, a hostess I believe, started to do some absurd hip-wagging dance (which I've since saved to the hard drive), that it occurred to me. Turkey win and they are going to burn this fucker down! And if Turkey lose? They are going to burn this fucker down!

By halftime the mood has soured, but only a bit. Germany equalized through Schweinsteiger minutes after Boral's goal. It was a goal that is never scored if Turkey has a proper central defense in place. Still, a draw at the half, and the run of play clearly favoring the 'dogs... there was nothing to complain over.

Cue now the 25-man smoke break.

Cue then the German infiltrator's explanation of Turkish football: "The Turks you know were allies to the Germans in World War I. And in one famous battle the German general ordered the Ottoman cavalry to await his order on the flanks. 'We'll rough them up he told the Turks, then you come in and clean the ground.' The Turks agreed but when the battle began the horses charged immediately. The Germans were shocked but fought on and won a decided, bloooody victory. After the field was cleared, the German commander approached his Turkish counterpart and asked, 'Why didn't you wait for my whistle?' The Turk came off his horse and explained, simply, 'There is no pride in waiting, only in winning.' So attack attack attack! That is Turkish football!"

I've paraphrased there. The gentleman offered me a "raki," a kind of Turkish ouzo, before beginning his story. By the time he'd finished I was enthralled. Perhaps even dribbling at the mouth. The waiter leaned to me and explained that, for my next glass, consider mixing in some water and ice. No one drinks that shit straight. Oops.

The second half was a mess. Better to be forgotten. The international feed was stricken by a bolt of lightning. In Sahara's, loss of the picture was met with relief, not anger. Who could stand it?? By what I imagined to be the hour mark the first in-house cigarette was lit. Not more than ten minutes later, still without visual evidence, we were informed the Germans had gone up by a Klose header. A Rustu howler, too. I don't think the point was made clear enough for our crew, as no one screamed or responded in any exacting way.

More black. More Foudy.

It has to be the 80th minute.

"Another Raki! These things are great!"

This Ayip was chilling now. Even as time was running down on Turkey on that blackened screen there was calm. And you know what? Do you fucking know what?!? The screen flashed back on with the image of Semih "in to Semih!" Senturk in his teammates' arms. The bastard had tied it. Again.

Glass breaking. Man kisses-- my head and the top of my right ear too slow to escape. More Raki! They've done it again. My tablemate is now pacing, looping around our table. Turning left, like a good Turk!

There was a song now. Screaming. Hummus.


I refer you here to my pal ü75's topline to his liveblog:

Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins.

Gary Lineker's word, of course. And on this night, like so many other, prophetic indeed. The squirrely left back did it.

Turkey were done. They had lost. But tell me, looking back on this tournament 20 years hence, what will it be that you tell the young folk about?

Joachim Low's sweat stains? Ok, maybe.

Philip Lahm? No, sir.

What you'll tell them about is Turkey and their holy trinity of football miracles. About Fatih Terim and how much of dirty pimp-ass managerial job he did. And Rustu in the shootout against Croatia. And Semih!

In to Semih!


ü75 said...

And the rest of it? You took Bissinger's advice a little too literally, I think.

Mike Georger said...

is that picture likely lad at the turkish joint? or is it someone doing their best edward norton shower scene impersonation.

jjf3 said...

I think the sad part of this is that we will have to work hard to really remember what this team did. They were DEAD. Multiple times, and they STILL made cockroaches look like lazy punks...

chipped red nail polish said...

I did that in Greece, with ouzo. Ignored the glass of water with which it was served (and sagely advised my co-traveler to do the same) and drank it straight. I've been living with the shame for five years and suddenly feel much better about it.

If only Volkan had left the pitch after his all-powerful, Koller-grounding shove. If only...