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Euro 2008 serves up two surprise semifinals

The Germans are the favourites to go through to the final Keystone

The two matches taking place in Basel and Vienna on Wednesday and Thursday offer duels normally not expected at this stage of the competition.

Very few people foresaw Turkey, Russia or even Spain aspiring to a place in the final of the tournament co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

“Football is a game where 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” This joke by former England international Gary Lineker could once again come true in this Euro tournament.

Ahead of the semifinals which begin on Wednesday, the German team are favourites to succeed the Greeks, winners four years ago in Portugal.

Three time title-holders in the European Championship (1972, 1980 and once since reunification in 1996), Germany once again possess a team capable of making it to the end of the adventure.

Although generally the favourites over Turkey, whose numbers are down after suspensions and injuries, the Germans should still be wary of being overconfident.

Special match

While Germany are playing with a full team, Turkey will be deprived of four suspended players (goalkeeper Volkan Demirel, Emre Aşık, Arda Turan and Tuncay Şanlı) and several injured players such as forward Nihat Kahveci and defender Servet Çetin. Latest reports say just 14 Turkish players are “available” for the semifinal, two of them goalkeepers.

But Turkey have shown such mental force since the start of the competition – in turning around situations with Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Croatia – that nothing seems impossible for this team. Even more reason why the encounter with Germany will be something “special”.

Of the seven million foreigners living in Germany, nearly two million are Turks. And that’s without counting around 400,000 German citizens who are of Turkish origin, according to the website of European football’s governing body Uefa.

Many arrived in the 1960s to work in German factories. Their children today have dual nationality and know little about their country of origin. But who knows where their allegiance lies.

There are some striking examples of the connection between these two peoples in the domain of football: two top players of the Turkish team – Hamit Altıntop and Hakan Balta – were born in Germany. And a German coach (Sepp Pontiek) was one of those who brought Turkey into the international arena. His assistant at the time was Fatih Terim, the current Turkish team coach.

Germany and Turkey have met on 17 previous occasions (11 German victories, three draws and three Turkish wins). During the World Cup in Switzerland in 1954, Germany beat Turkey 4-1 in Zurich. What will happen in Basel?

Arshavin, Villa

The other semifinal – played in Vienna – pits an increasingly strong Russian side against Spain, who won a historic victory over Italy on Sunday.

Pundits hesitate to declare a favourite, but both teams have already met in the group stage of the tournament, when it did not take the Spaniards long to push ahead and win 4-1.

The Russian team under coach Guus Hiddink can again count on their greatest asset, Arshavin, after two suspensions due to a nasty foul against Andorra in the qualifying campaign for the Euro 2008.

Hiddink has already led other national squads, South Korea and Australia, to international heights.

Russia – or the Soviet Union as they were called – were the first team to win the European championships in 1960 and they were runners-up in 1964, 1978 and 1988. But they have never shone since then.

Spain are scarcely any better off as they have never made it to a semifinal in 24 years.

Obeservers say their top striker David Villa, who scored a hat trick against Russia in the group match, could be the key to a Spanish success.

Spain under coach Luis Aragonés are the only squad still in competition which have not lost a match. They have beaten Russia, Sweden, Greece and Italy and are looking to continue their winning streak.

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Mathias Froidevaux

Massimo Busacca of Switzerland will referee the semifinal in Basel. He was in action at the Euro 2008 for the matches Greece against Sweden and Netherland against Romania.

His compatriots Stéphane Cuhat and Matthias Arnet are his linesmen.

Belgium’s Frank de Beleekcere will officiate the other semifinal Russia Spain on Thursday, while Italy’s Roberto Rosetti has been named to referee the Euro final next Sunday.

Germany –Turkey:
St Jacob’s Park stadium in Basel, Wednesday June 25

Russia – Spain:
Ernst Happel stadium in Vienna, Thursday June 26

Switzerland is co-hosting the Euro 2008 football tournament with Austria from June 7-29.

The first round games were played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna). The quarterfinals and semifinals are being hosted by Basel and Vienna, and the final will be held in Vienna on June 29.

The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and are expected to be watched by about eight billion cumulative TV viewers.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR