Yesterday’s Euro 2008 semi-final between Germany and Turkey produced another thriller, though most of the worldwide audience (including me) missed much of the drama due to a blackout of the television feed. The Turks scored to equalize the match in the 85th minute, making this the fourth match in a row where they had performed such late heroics. However, Germany scored the winning goal just two minutes later. Here are some thoughts about the match.
First: Left-back Phillip Lahm is known as a good defender and a very good “winger.” Last night he was an awful defender and a world class winger. Add to this the fact that the Turks, because of injuries, had to play a winger (Sabri) at right back, and you have the formula for a “one-sided” match, i.e. one with most of the action on one flank (the German left; the Turkish right). In fact, all five goals originated on that flank. Lahm scored one, assisted on one and contributed to both of Turkey’s goals through poor defending. Quite a night’s work.
Second: Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, the Turks are the heroes of this tournament, and Euro 2008 will be remembered for those heroics. Their four straight comebacks are surely unprecedented at this level. And last night, Turkey was missing nine members of the 23-man squad due to injury or suspension. Yet they ran circles around Germany in the first half.
Third: Turkey was missing three of its five best attacking players: Nihat, Arda (the top two) along with Tuncay (I rate Altintop and Samih in Tuncay’s class and they were both available). But the key losses may have been at goalkeeper and center back. The make-shift Turkish lineup produced two goals. With their regular goalkeeper and any one of the three center backs who was missing, two goals might well have been enough. The pass that set up the first German goal could have been cut-out with better defending from make-shift defender Mehmet Topal (Sabri was also culpable at right back, but he compensated at the other end), and the second goal was certainly down to poor goalkeeping.
Fourth: The Germans don’t look like world beaters. In their three matches against quality opposition, they’ve been excellent in one and good in half of another. Of course, Germany has won big tournaments before without ever quite looking like world beaters.
Fifth: You can make the case that Germany should be rooting for Spain to defeat Russia in today’s semi-final. The biggest problems for the Germans have occurred down the flanks — mainly their right side against Croatia and mainly their left side against Turkey. Spain’s David Silva has played well on the wings, but Russia’s pace down both flanks has been more impressive. This is not to say that Germany’s central defense firm of Metzelder and Mertesacker would relish dealing with Fernando Torres and David Villa of Spain.
Sixth: What was Geman coach “Yogi” Low thinking when he started Simon Rolfes in central midfield instead of Torsten Frings? Frings is a world class holding midfielder with tons of experience at this level. Rolfes is a good club player with international potential. Many factors contributed to Germany’s improved play in the second half, but the insertion of Frings was perhaps the most important. Let’s give Low the benefit of the doubt and conclude that he would have made the change even if Rolfes hadn’t been injured just before half time. You can bet that, if healthy, it will be Frings in the final on Sunday.
Finally: The success in this tournament of Russia and Turkey continues the gradual and predictable trend whereby nations with large populations gain in soccer’s pecking order. Mexico and even the U.S. are also part of the trend. The failure of the two host nations — Austria and Switzerland — to win even one game that mattered continues the flip-side of this trend.
UPDATE: There’s another talking point for this match — the fact that a Turkish player, Colin Kazim-Richards (now known as Kazim-Kazim), was down and seemingly hurt when Germany scored the winning goal. Kazim says Germany should have kicked the ball out-of-bounds while he recovered, as is usually done.
I suppose this can be argued either way, but I’m with the Germans. We’ve seen too many players at this tournament stay down with supposed injuries after losing or failing to gain possession, and with the other team on the attack. As I recall the play, Germany didn’t cause Kazim’s supposed injury. Nor, if he had been able to get back up, is it likely that Kazim would have caught up with the play and prevented the goal. This was, I think, a genuine breakaway opportunity that, in my view, the Germans had the right to complete.
It may also be worth noting that the Turks played with a man advantage for about two minutes at the very end of the half while Rolfes was hurt. They didn’t just kick the ball around while Rolfes was being stitched up; they tried to score.