Jim White

Some teams get all the luck

Jim White

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Well, what a game that was. Any fears we might have had that the adventurous spirit at Euro 2008 would be dissipated the closer we got to the final were blown away in Basle. Germany and Turkey produced a semi-final of such endeavour, such excitement, such sustained drama it will live long in the memory. Whether the right team won it in the end, however, is a different matter.

Claire Young, the runner up in the recent television series The Apprentice has just landed a job at Birmingham City. It is better paid, more interesting and promises a much higher profile than the job with Suralan that the winner Lee McQueen was gifted as his prize. And rightly so, many people thought, as Young was clearly the best candidate in the series. It often happens in The Apprentice, those who don't win end up parlaying their moment in the spotlight into much better opportunities than the winners.

In competitive sport, however, it is never like that. All that matters is the winning. Frankly, we can barely remember who came second, never mind those who lost in the semi-final. Losing there is the cruellest place to depart, so near yet so far. Especially when, as in the case of Turkey, you really do not deserve to be out.

The Turks arrived at the semi-final in a state of apparent disarray. Seven of their best players were either injured or suspended. It was said they only had two fit outfield players left available on the bench. They had in goal a keeper who stepped back from international retirement to fill a breach caused by suspension, and now looks like a man who should be gaining employment solely in the adult entertainment industry. There was every evidence, in short, that they would roll over against the Germans. At best, all they could do was mount a rearguard defence, group every man behind the ball and hope for penalties.

Instead, recognising that this is not the most elevated of German teams, they attacked from the off. Players who can never have expected to play on such a platform seized their moment with aplomb. Colin Kazim-Richards, for instance, a midfielder not deemed good enough for the Championship in England, played as if he were the answer to every requirement in the England national team: running at the opposition at pace, with verve and nerve.

He was a revelation. And he was by no means alone. Turkey never stopped trying, never stopped attacking. When they got their equaliser in the 86th minute, you thought justice had been done. You thought their passion, their spirit, their pride deserved this. In fact, it seemed momentum had swung their way as it did against Croatia and that from here, they would go on to win it.

But that was forgetting two important characteristics of German football: they never give up either. Plus they are canny. Philipp Lahm, attacking down the left-hand side of the pitch, turned Kazim-Richards sufficiently deftly for the player to catch his studs in the turf and twist his knee. Lahm, a wily old campaigner, suddenly appreciated that he had space to run into. He would have no midfielder tracking his advance. So on he went and blasted in a brilliant winner, a goal that arrived so late not even the Turks could respond. It was a wonderfully aggressive piece of play, a superbly-crafted piece of ruthlessness. But boy it was hard. It was cruel and it was unfair. That, however, is football. That is the difference between proper competition and television's ersatz version.

It also demonstrated this about the Germans: they are lucky. Here they were, playing a team already on its last legs, and yet they were given the extra lift of yet another ill-timed injury to an opponent to see them through. And they did so despite the most alarmingly wobbly defence. They did so despite a goalkeeper so arthritic he was completely unable to get down to deal with either of the Turkish goals, both of which someone like Gianluigi Buffon would have snaffled in his sleep. They did so with their best player by a mile - Michael Ballack - having his worst game of the tournament.

But the fact is, nobody wins a tournament like this without enjoying a bit of fortune. And the Germans, with the football gods smiling benevolently on them, will be anticipating Sunday's final with relish. As for the Turks, well let's hope someone at least comes along and gives them the consolation prize their efforts deserve. A job in the Premier League for Kazim-Richards would be a start.

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