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Like Cinderella, But With Unibrows

Games 3

Group A

Turkey 3, Czech Republic 2


What the hell just happened?

Seriously, what the hell just happened?

There have been two comebacks so far in the Euros, where a team conceded the first goal, came back to tie, and then won, and it was my team, the Turks, were the ones responsible for both. In fact, this time around it wasn’t enough for them to rally from being merely one down, so they let the Czech score the first two.

2-0. Two nil after 62 minutes. That’s a mortal lock in international footy. That’s "Goodnight Aunt Gracie" time. That’s "It’s all over but the crying and cursing" time. Especially the cursing. Most of all, it’s time to get good and pissed. I guarantee you that millions of Turks watching the game will have no recollection whatsoever of the comeback because they were getting themselves completely shitfaced somewhere around half time.

Honestly, I should’ve too, but the games are on a bit too early where I’m at. My homies came out way too nervous and tentative and I knew they were in trouble right away. They didn’t really touch the ball for more than a few seconds at a time in the first 15 minutes. The Czech midfield were dominating the game and pretty much every time they played a ball to the gigantic weenie, Jan Koller, we went over his back and fouled him, leading to an early flurry of yellow cards and free kicks. They weren’t forcing Turkish keeper Volkan Demirel into any tough saves, but you could sense trouble brewing.

In the 33rd minute, their early composure and control finally paid off for them and they got on the board by finishing off a mini-break. The ball came to Marek Matejovsky in the middle, he dished it off to his right to Lubor Sionko, who’s simply been their best player by a mile the whole tournament, and he crossed it off to the gigantic Koller, who easily outleapt his marker Emre Gungor (probably the fourth choice at centerback if everyone was healthy) and slammed it home off the side of that watermelon he calls a head. The goal was a long time coming and we were probably fortunate to being going into half just one down.

In the second half they made a key tactical change and scrapped their 4-4-2 and ditched forward Semih Senturk in favor of a 4-5-1 and Sabri Sarioglu. Sabri essentially moved to right back and Hamit Altintop moved to midfield, though they were so desperate that for large stretches of the game they were essentially playing a 3-5-2 or a 3-6-1. Suddenly they were starting to enjoy the lion’s share of the possession and challenging Peter Cech’s goal. Altintop was getting easier and easier access throwing crosses into the box from the right side. Tuncay Sanli had a couple of headers on net, but right at Cech. Turkey looked to be threatening to tie it up at any second.

Then disaster struck. Gungor got hurt and had to be stretchered off the field. The team certainly wasn’t missing his quality, but they were still better off playing with him than with only ten. His absence was felt almost immediately when the lumbering Koller was able to get a breakaway, and Demirel was fortunate the big man missed wide left, not as accurate with his feet as he had been with his head. It hardly matter though as in the very next trip down the pitch Sionko, again on the right side found an open man to latch on to one of his crosses and this time it was Jaroslav Plasil to bang home a sliding bouncing volley in the 61st minute, against the run of play. The manager Fatih Terim was furious that he wasn’t allowed to get his sub on the pitch, because you know, Emre Asik would’ve just totally shut that shit down.

Anyway, at 2-0 I certainly taught the game was over. My mom even called me to see how the game was going and I told her as much. Hell, the Czechs had come closer to making it 3-0 than we had to scoring at all, with Sionko agains making a perfect feed, this time to Jan Polak, who slammed it off the right crossbar to save the hapless Demirel from further embarrassment. Just about everything was going their way. Their team was healthier, playing from ahead, they had the momentum and the ref seemed to be favoring them at every opportunity.

Then something odd happened. A linesman on the far side broke his flag and needed another. Instead of the frustrated Turkish players making the refs sort the problem out amongst themselves, Sanli jogged the replacement flag over, all the way across the pitch. Sure, it was probably a way to save some time, but the move just reeked of good karma. I mean, it was impossible to miss.

And just like that the Turks started to breathe fire. Sanli got the ball at the top of the box in the 74th minute and he made a short, smart pass to Altintop making a run into the box. He was quickly met by several alert Czech defenders, so he did the only thing he could, pass it way to his left across the box and hope a trailer was there. There was no way he could’ve spotted Arda Turan on the other side. Somehow the ball made it through a forest of bodies and legs and found wonderboy at the left edge of the box and though his shot wasn’t struck all that hard, it was low and on target and Cech couldn’t get enough of it on his dive, managing only to deflect the ball off the post and in. 2-1 in the 75th minute and now we had life.

What happened after that was something I’ve never witnessed from Turkey in all my time watching against good competition in these tournaments – they never gave up the ball. Seriously, it was fifteen minutes almost of solid pressure in the Czechs half, mostly coming from the right flank with Altintop and sub Colin Kazim-Richards (aka Kazim Kazim, [don’t ask]). Plasil was having a miserable time trying to defend his side of the pitch that they finally subbed him out in the 80th minute, but the new guy couldn’t do any better. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine my Turks ever discombobulating the Czechs so badly. Unlike all the other teams with a lead, they just couldn’t mount any kind of counterattack at all, they were happy just to clear it to the half line, or out of bounds. If you permit me the Bill Simmons imitation, "It was like watching ‘Rocky IV’ where Rocky starts whaling away on Drago and he can’t fight back."

Our best, last chance looked like it came and went in the 81st minute. Off a corner Altintop somehow found himself on the left side and he booted a beautiful bending cross perfectly on target to centerback Servet Cetin who was fairly open. The pass couldn’t have been a millimeter more accurate. Cetin botched it and knocked it off the side of his head wide and I slammed the table in disgust.

But it wouldn’t matter.

Four minutes later we got a gift and Altintop threw another cross into the box. This one didn’t look to be as accurate and Cech was all over it.

Except he wasn’t.

The ball slipped through his hands and right to Nihat (Coffeemaker) Kahveci, who politely tapped it in for the tying goal in the 87th minute with stunned captain Tomas Ujfalusi helplessly looking on. I was so stunned I couldn’t even make a sound. I just stared at the TV screen, wondering if the goal counted. It was too easy, I kept waiting for some whistle to be blown or something. Finally, it hit me that we had scored and I got up and started yelling and jumping, only I couldn’t find it in me to be as loud as I was against the Swiss, because I knew that penalty kicks still beckoned and my personal awful record with pennos with the teams I root for. Even tied, we were still underdogs in my mind. The delirium lasted maybe 30 seconds and already I was more nervous and anxious than ever.

"Please don’t tell me they came back just to lose on the fucking shootout," I was thinking.

Because my mind works that way. Because I have this sickness.

Watching the replays, you have to give Cech some consolation. It wasn’t that easy of a play. His body wasn’t perfectly upright and he did have to lunge for the ball at an angle. Plus it was raining and wet.

Who am I kidding? It was lucky as hell. But the Czechs second goal was bullshit too, so whatever.

Anyway, just when I was thinking about who would be the one to whack their penalty shot twenty feet over the bar, the Turks got the ball again. Of course it found the feet of Altintop, it was as if he had it the whole half. He raced up field, found Coffeemaker open on a seam to the left, and Ujfalusi, way on the other side of the pitch, couldn’t run upfield fast enough to execute the off-side trap. Kahveci just barely was onside, and for once, the linesman gave the tie to the offense, a decision to which I’ll always be grateful. Kahveci calmly gathered himself, saw Cech rushing toward him and coolly curled the ball over and around him and to the underside of the crossbar, the carom deflecting it just inside the goal.

Like the late, great ESPN hockey announcer said once when Wayne Gretzky beat the butterflying Patrick Roy over the shoulder and under the bar, "A perfect shot! A perfect shot!"

You can see the video of the shot here, at the 1:30 mark, but it’s the Canadian feed, not ESPN, so no Mees call.

To go from two down to one up in under 14 minutes against the Czechs? That’s sports movie nonsense. This stuff never happens in reality. I was stunned. I was shell-shocked. I kept waiting for the off-sides flag to go up. When I finally registered that we had the lead, I was yelling and dancing and hugging and tackling everyone. I think I broke the old cook’s ribs. I yelled louder this time, but it was still a Sunday with all these people eating brunch, so Manolis told me to restrain myself.

Besides, the game wasn’t over.

In between our third goal and the final whistle our stupid goalie found time to shove Koller, and while it was a good shove, Koller gave the mother of all flops and flew backward like he got shot. The ref gave him our keeper a red card, Zidane-style. Our three substitutions had already been made so we had to have Sanli wear the gloves and Demirel’s jersey, inside-out. Thank God no shots came his way. It helped a lot that Ujfalus got booked, as did Milan Baros, from the bench. Those took up most of the remaining time.

In short, the greatest ending to a soccer game I’ve ever seen and probably our finest moment on the world stage. This even surpasses our run to third place in the ’02 World Cup because we actually beat a real team instead of China-Japan-Senegal-South Korea. And now we’ve become the Cinderella, the feel good story. Everyone watching our game on Friday who isn’t Croatian (or possibly Armenian) will be pulling for us. It’s an amazing feeling.

What makes me so happy is that our team is young and should only get better and better. Kahveci is the oldest star and he’s 28. Altintop is 25. Sanli is 26. Turan is 21. Our best offensive backliner, Gokhan Gonul missed the tournament with a bad groin, and he’s 22. Our captain, Belozoglu Emre hasn’t played since the first game with a hamstring injury, and he was our best player against Portugal. He’s 27. Hopefully he can return soon.

But can you imagine us in World Cup ’10 throwing out a 3-5-2 with Mehmet Aurelio and Mehmet (Manu) Topal as the holding midfielders, Turan, Emre, and Altintop left-to-right as attacking midfielders and Kahveci and Sanli as forwards? Plus Gonul attacking from right fullback and Hakan Balta from left? That would be sick. Fucking sick. We’d easily have one of the best offenses in Europe, if not the world. The country has never produced more football talent and we’d be ready to join Europe’s "Big Seven" alongside Germany, Italy, France, Netherlands, Spain, England, and Portugal. All of a sudden, I’m not dreading those World Cup qualifiers anymore. We can play with anybody and everyone will be afraid of us. I’m so excited.

However, that doesn’t mean this tournament run is over, not by a long shot. I don’t care if the starting goalie is out. Our backup, Rustu Recber has plenty of experience and was a hero in ’02, easily the second best keeper in the tournament after Germany’s Oliver Kahn (and way busier). Aurelio will miss the game with too many yellows, so Topal will have to step up. So far, he’s been mediocre, but he looked less nervous in this game than against the Swiss. Emre Gungor is out for the tournament with his injury and Cetin is still very gimpy and it looks like the other starting centerback Gokhan Zan, who hasn’t played since Portugal, is still out. We simply don’t have anyone left back there in the middle except Asik, and he has a big bandage wrapped around his head. We might need to pull out all the stops, play a 3-6-1 or 3-5-2 and just hope our midfielders can neutralize their midfielders, strength against strength. We literally don’t have enough healthy bodies to play a 4-4-2. Croatia has an incredible midfield but I’m not in love with their forwards, defense or goalie, so it could be another interesting, crazy game. They’re very deep though and beat Poland today with their "B" team, so we will need to play more than 30 minutes to beat them. Either way, I won’t give up now, no matter what.

To recap what I just wrote...

Türkei - Tschechien 3-2 EM 2008 15.06.2008 (via turkiye2828)

I can't emphasize strongly enough that none of those gentlemen who turned the parking lot of a Turkish gas station into a gay nightclub is me. I live in the mecca of gay nightclubs, so I don't have to fantasize about what going to one might be like, thank you very much.

Switzerland 2, Portugal 0

In a game that completely didn’t matter, the host Swiss gave their fans a token win, beating the Portuguese backups behind two more goals from their Turkish forward Hakan Yakin. His first one, in the 71st minute came after a nice through ball from Gokhan Inler, another Turk. Hmmm. The second came on a penalty shot in the 83rd.

The Swiss were unlucky in both of their losses to the Czechs and to the Turks and definitely deserved a better fate. The way the team rallied around the injury of their captain and best player, Alexander Frei was admirable, but it appears as though they’ve found two good young scorers to replace him in Yakin and his teenage forward partner Eren Derdiyok.

Actually, not two young ones. It seems, Yakin is already 31. Oh, and did I mention he’s really Turkish?

Anyway, now that we’ve avenged our awful play-offs loss to them in 2006 and the team and its fans represented themselves so well in this tournament, I no longer hold any hatred or animosity towards them. I will go back to thinking about them the way I did before this whole mess started – basically I won’t.

And I’d still do Martina Hingis. If you’re reading this Martina, call me.

Portugal rested everybody and will now tune up for their Thursday slobberknocker with ze Germans. With their game with the Czechs out of the way, I can happily resume my hatred of the Portuguese and I hope Ronaldo the ponce gets the shit kicked out of him by Torsten Frings and Christoph Metzelder. The reality though is so far Portugal has looked much the bigger side and it would have to be considered an upset if Germany wins the game. Basically, the manager Low will have to figure out to bench Mario Gomez for Germany and the keeper Ricardo will have to do something really stupid in net for Portugal.

Group B:

Germany 1, Austria 0

Give the Austrians credit. They were game and they competed and the home field advantage made them a lot tougher opponent for all three teams in Group B than I’d ever imagined. Really I thought they would lose all three games by an aggregate of 9-1 or something. They wound up only surrendering three goals. Their problem, clearly, was offense. They mustered one freakin’ goal in three games and that was a mercy penalty shot in the 92nd minute. Pathetic, any way you slice it.

Today against Germany they had nine shots, which sounds fairly impressive, until you realize that none were on goal and Jens Lehmann had to make as many saves as you or me watching this snoozer on our couches or loveseats. I guess those Austrian petition people were right, they should’ve forfeited their spot and let another European team play. Like I dunno, maybe FUCKING INGERLUND perhaps. You should’ve seen Beckham’s face in the press conference last Saturday night when I asked him about the Euros. I could tell it really pained him to even talk about it, he was so embarrassed to be there and not in this tournament.

About the only interesting thing that happened in the game is that the two managers Joachim Low along with Austria counterpart Josef Hickersberger got ejected in the 41st minute for arguing with each other. The fourth ref on the sidelines, Paolo Calcagno had enough of their bickering and called the main ref Manuel Gonzalez over and he made them watch the rest of the game from the stands. How embarrassing! How humiliating! (How relieved am I that it didn’t happen to our guy, Terim?)

Low is another one of these guys, like Mike Martz or Norv Turner in football, where it seems pretty clear they should just be offensive coordinators and not head coaches. He took a perfect working recipe for Germany and ruined it with needless tweaks and substitutions. His two non-injury related lineup changes from ’06 to now, Mario Gomez at forward and Marcus Janssen at left back have been terrible the whole tournament and two of them have seemingly conspired to knock Germany out of it. I don’t care how good Gomez was in the Bundesliga, the national team is different! And I don’t care how terrible Schweinsteiger was in the Bundesliga, he was like the third or fourth best player on the team in ’06! He should’ve been starting this whole time!

Anyway, it seems that Low is either slowly learning from his mistakes or fate is intervening for him. His ejection probably prevented him from doing something stupid in the game tactically and losing to Austria. Janssen was out with a "shoulder injury" Arne Freidrich started at right back and moved Philipp Lahm back to the left. Finally, the ’06 backfield was together at last. And presto, no shots on goal allowed! Who’d have guessed?

Low couldn’t have started (or even played) Schweinsteiger today even if he wanted to as he was suspended for picking up that stupid red card against the Croatians. But he’ll be eligible for the quarterfinal against Portugal. If he’s not the starting left midfielder on Thursday, just fire Low on the spot.

Gomez cannot possibly play anymore, he’s killing them. Miroslav Klose set him up as gloriously as any forward could ever be set up, a ball at his feet two meters from net and no goalie to be found, and Gomez clubbed it straight up in the air and then didn’t even jump for it. What a dog. He should be put down, and fast. Just play Lukas Podolski up front already. You’re not fooling anyone you stupid prick, he’s a forward. Jurgen Klinsmann must be watching the games, laughing, smirking, yelling to no one in particular, "Hey Beckenbauer, what do you think of me now, you old bastard?"

Though the Germans needed just a draw to get through, they thankfully gave the game the one goal with captain Michael Ballack rocketing home the first free kick goal of the tournament into the upper right corner of the net. Austria’s Jurgen Macho had no chance. Still, the angle Ballack shot it, the ball had no curve at all, it was a straight in shot. I’m thinking their wall made a mistake in their lineup. Maybe no one wanted to get hit by his cannon. I don’t really blame them.

Germany gets the hated Portuguese on Thursday, and that means I have to root for them. While they’ve been crap for two games now on offense, they can still upset Portugal if they score first and frustrate them. Klose is overdue for a goal and he might get one if Schweinsteiger is there to cross him a good ball. These teams last met in the WC ’06 Third Place Game and Germany won easily 3-1 behind two goals from the platinum blonde midfielder. I don’t know if that game means anything though. WC3PGs have the opposite rule from all other postseason contests: The team that’s happier to be there always wins. The team that is bitchy and grumpy about having lost its semifinal always loses. Hot blooded temperamental teams like Bulgaria and Portugal have no patience to get up for such trivial affairs. The ’02 WC3PG between Turkey and South Korea was the first time ever both teams were happy to be there, so the tiebreaker went to the more talented team and we won 3-2, in a loosey-goosy contest where nobody played any defense and Hakan Sukur scored 11 seconds in.

Croatia 1, Poland 0

Pretty lame for Poland, losing to the Croatian "B" team. Thanks a lot, guys, now they’ll be way too overconfident when we play them. It’ll play right into our hands.

Obviously I wasn’t paying much attention to this one at all, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, I actually glanced more at the U.S. Open playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate than to this match. When I did look over I saw Polish keeper Artur Boruc make a few more dazzling saves and Polish attackers missing the net. Poland scored one goal the whole tournament and it was off-sides and shouldn’t have counted.

And the guy who scored it was Brazilian.

Croatia’s goal came from Ivan Klasnic in the 52nd minute and it was a Manu special if there ever was one. He was bumped by some Polish guy and fell down to embellish the contact, hoping to draw a penalty kick. No call was given so he got up and ran to an open spot in the box and Danijel Pranjic hit him with a pass from the left side and he turned his body and shot it low and to the far post and beat Boruc.

Croatia leave Group B with a perfect 3-0-0 record and now face my Turks on Friday. They’ll come in fully rested and healthy and with all the momentum in the world. Their midfield of Darijo Srna, Luka Modric, Nico Kovac and Niko Kranjcar shut Germany down and created so many chances on offense and sometimes Pranjic plays with them too and they go 3-5-2 or 4-5-1. Both teams’ strengths are in the middle and both are coming in red hot, so whichever group plays better should win the game.

But no, I don’t want to be down 3-0, "Just to see what happens."

Tomorrow it’s a rematch of the ’06 World Cup Final between Italy and France but no Zinedine Zidane, perhaps no Marco Materazzi, and a decent chance of no importance whatsoever if the Dutch scrubs let Romania run over them. I’m guessing that Romania will only muster another tired draw and the cock-a-roaches will sneak through again like always.