- 25 Jun 08, 11:55 PM
It just gets better and better. Are there any limits to the joy, skill, exhilaration and drama that Euro 2008 can serve up?
Wednesday's semi-final at St Jakob-Park was a stone-cold classic. Let's start by applauding Turkey.
I didn't have particularly high expectations of Fatih Terim's team prior to the start of the tournament, but they enriched the competition with three moments of pure footballing theatre. Their late goals against Switzerland, Czech Republic and Croatia were the type that haul you off the sofa with such spontaneous abandon that the popcorn and beer ends up all over the missus.
They almost did it again in the semi-final against the Germans, delivering a performance to warm the soul. So rich in passion, endeavour and belief - it made a nonsense of the catalogue of injury and suspensions that so limited the options of Terim.
Greece might have given us the ultimate footballing fairytale by winning Euro 2004, but they won all their knockout games 1-0 with a style of play that asphyxiated opponents.
While Turkey have fallen short of matching Greece's achievement, for my money they have given us so much more than Otto Rehhagel's outfit. For one brief moment, it looked as though lightning would strike for a fourth time when Semih Senturk equalised so late on after Miroslav Klose's header appeared to have sealed a final berth for the pre-match favourites.
That Phillip Lahm delivered Turkey a most cruel taste of their own medicine can in no way detract from what the men from the far corner of Europe have given us here in Switzerland. People talk about a lack of passion from over-paid players who no longer show enough pride in the national shirt. Show me a Turk who could be accused of that?
The Turkish journalist sat to my left in the press box embodied everything about the team he supports. Despite disappearing after five minutes for a hot dog, a cigarette shortly after that and conducting more phone calls during 90 minutes than I manage in a week, he nonetheless belted out the national anthem to the amusement of all around him, screamed and shouted his way through the match and pulled off a decent impression of a whirling dervish each time his team scored.
And what of the Germans? Joachim Loew's team were poor in the group stage, largely excellent against Portugal in their quarter-final victory and, in many ways, fortunate against Turkey.
They may have gone one better than their semi-final exit in the last World Cup, but their play was ragged against a decimated Turkish side, with possession squandered often and needlessly, while their defensive unit creaked disturbingly.
Bastian Schweinsteiger attempted a regulation pass to Thomas Hitzlsperger after 12 minutes. He missed his short-range target by yards and within a minute the impressive Colin Kazim-Richards had struck Jens Lehmann's crossbar.
Germany improved after the break, but Loew's team may find such errors prove costly when they meet either Russia or Spain in Sunday's final. Goalkeeper Lehmann looks shaky and was, at best, partially to blame as Turkey took the lead through Ugur Boral. Yet the Germans demonstrated once again their mental strength and should never be underestimated.
Afterwards, they celebrated in front of their fans in a manner that has now become their signature celebration - all in a line, arms up, arms down, standing up, sitting down, as their supporters lead them along in song.
The way I think about Germans changed forever at the 2006 World Cup. I think it was a watershed experience, not just for me but also for the German people. They embraced their national team with a pride and enthusiasm that suggested a modern, mature Germany free from the baggage of their past.
The atmosphere in Basel, populated by thousands of Turks and Germans, certainly seemed very amiable. Jokes were exchanged, songs sung (I'm blaming the Germans for the fact that 'We Will Rock You' was blaring out all over the place) and all were united in their desire to beat a retreat from the broiling temperatures.
The match itself showed signs of boiling over at times as the tension increased, but there was a wonderful moment immediately after the match ended. Lukas Podolski headed straight over to Bayern Munich team-mate Hamit Altintop and spent several minutes comforting the Turkey player. It spoke volumes about the manner in which this tournament has been played.
The crying shame of it all is that the Euro 2008 adventure is all over for Switzerland and there are only two games left to savour.
I have always believed, though, that quality matters more than quantity. And if the remaining fixtures match the events here in Basel on Wednesday, then this footballing spectacle will have the fitting end that is so desperately deserves.
All roads now lead to Vienna.
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