Until the semi-finals, it seemed that Turkey, with its fighting spirit, could overcome any challenge. Striker Nihat Kahveci played a significant role in the national team’s success. Source: Imago Images
Until the semi-finals, it seemed that Turkey, with its fighting spirit, could overcome any challenge. Striker Nihat Kahveci played a significant role in the national team’s success. Source: Imago Images

How Turkey repeatedly rose from the dead at the 2008 Euros

EURO OlyBet 21.06.2024

A new and promising generation is emerging in Turkish football, spearheaded by 19-year-olds Arda Güler and Kenan Yildiz, who play for Real Madrid and Juventus, respectively. Their goal is to achieve what their countrymen have never achieved before in major tournaments.

Turkey has shone on the international football stage twice: winning bronze at the 2002 World Cup and reaching the semi-finals of the 2008 European Championship, where they lost 2-3 to Germany.

These achievements were not made by the same generation, as only four players participated in both tournaments: goalkeeper Rüstü Recber, defender Emre Asik, midfielder and 2008 captain Emre Belözoğlu, and striker Nihat Kahveci.

While the World Cup result was better, the squad that competed in the 2008 Euros is considered Turkey’s golden generation. With only five players over the age of 30, hopes were high that under the leadership of Belözoğlu, who played for Newcastle United, and Kahveci, who had proven himself in Spain, a relatively young Turkey could continually assert itself on the international stage.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Turkey’s last World Cup appearance was in 2002, and although they qualified for the Euros in 2016 and 2021, they did not make any significant impact. This year, however, under the guidance of Italian legend Vincenzo Montella, the Turkish team might surprise football fans again.

In anticipation of a surprise, let’s turn back the clock to the summer of 2008, when Turkey made its mark at the Euros.

Recber’s bold statement

Turkey was placed in a group with one of the hosts, Switzerland, as well as Czechia and Portugal. All teams aimed to finish in the top two and advance to the knockout stage, but in such a tight group, anything could happen – and much did.

Under the leadership of coach Fatih Terim, Turkey lost their opening match to Portugal. More painful than the 0-2 defeat was the fact that the team from the Iberian Peninsula outplayed Turkey in every aspect, despite Recber’s pre-match declaration that their goal was to reach the final. On June 7, this seemed like madness, but the rest of the tournament showed that the confident goalkeeper wasn’t bluffing.

In the second match, Turkey faced the hosts. Dubbed the “Bath in Basel,” the match began in dry conditions but ended in heavy rain, turning the pitch into something resembling a swimming pool rather than a football pitch. The weather gave the Swiss, who favored long balls over Turkey’s short passing game, an advantage. This was exploited in the 32nd minute when Hakan Yakin, born to Turkish parents in Switzerland, scored the simplest goal of his life.

Another Swiss player of Turkish descent, Eren Derdiyok, maneuvered past goalkeeper Volkan Demirel but did not shoot due to a poor angle. Instead, the 19-year-old striker passed the ball to Yakin, whose path was stopped by a puddle, allowing him to easily score into an empty net. Although Derdiyok’s pass would have reached Yakin on a dry field, the puddle made the goal even more certain.

The Turks did not give up and scored twice in the second half after the rain stopped. First, Semih Sentürk sent the ball past Diego Benaglio, and in the second minute of added time, Arda Turan, considered the team’s biggest talent, scored with a deflected shot from the edge of the penalty area.

Striker had to become a goalkeeper

On June 15, it was clear that alongside Portugal, either Turkey or Czechia would advance from the group.

Czechia led 2-0 by the 62nd minute thanks to goals from Jan Koller and Jaroslav Plašil. It seemed over, but when Turan pulled one back 13 minutes later, Turkish hope was rekindled. In the 87th minute, Petr Cech failed to catch a Turkish cross, and the ball fell to Kahveci, who equalized. Two minutes later, the Czech defense was completely out of position, and Kahveci was left unmarked to score off the crossbar, completing one of the greatest comebacks in Euros history.

Remarkably, Turkey finished the game with ten men after Demirel shoved Koller and received a red card. With all substitutions used, forward Tuncay Sanli went into goal. Fortunately for Turkey, there was too little time left for the Czechs to challenge the outfield player.

After the game, Kahveci noted that after Turan’s goal, the Turks realized the Czechs were worried. “We talked to each other and agreed to give our all. It wouldn’t have been a problem if we had lost,” he said. “My two goals are the best I have scored in my career. We proved to everyone that a football match lasts 90 minutes and that Turkey never gives up until the final whistle.”

Suspensions and injuries hampered Turkey

Barely scraping into the quarterfinals, Turkey faced Croatia. If the Czech match was a Euro classic, the game against Croatia had an even crazier script. The Croats were one of three teams, alongside the Netherlands and Spain, to win all their group matches, including a victory over Germany.

Terim had to make four changes to the starting lineup from the Czech match due to injuries and suspensions. Demirel was suspended, as was naturalized Brazilian midfielder Mehmet Aurelio.

With no goals scored in normal time, the match went to extra time. In the 119th minute, Ivan Klasnić headed Croatia into the lead, but Kahveci’s prophecy held true: Turkey never gives up.

Sentürk scored in the 122nd minute while losing his balance but managing to hit the top corner. Bilic and the Croats appealed to the referees, arguing that the added time was over, but the goal stood. Turkey won the subsequent penalty shootout 3-1. ‘Our success knows no bounds. We constantly rise from the dead, but with players like these, it’s impossible to lose,’ Terim declared post-match.

Against Germany, Turkey’s injury and suspension woes continued. Aurelio was back, but Demirel was still suspended, as were Turan, Sanli, and Asik due to yellow cards accumulated against Croatia.

Despite these setbacks, Turkey put up a fierce fight against the reigning World Cup bronze medalists. Sentürk scored yet another late goal to make it 2-2, but Germany had the last word, with Philipp Lahm putting the ball past Recber.

Although Turkey’s journey ended in the semi-finals, they exceeded expectations and wrote a new chapter in the country’s football history. This was the golden moment for that generation, inspiring today’s squad led by Güler and Yildiz to aim even higher.


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