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Germany-Turkey semi highlights nations' links
by Mike Woitalla, June 25th, 2008 7AM

TAGS:  european championship


[EURO 2008] More than 2.5 million people with Turkish heritage live in Germany, prompting German leaders to turn Wednesday's semifinal (ESPN, 2:30 pm ET) into a German-Turkish Friendship Day. Two of Turkey's stars were born and raised in Germany. And Germany coach Joachim Loew had two stints in Turkey early in his career.

In Berlin, whose Turkish community is nearly 200,000 strong, the "Fan Mile," where Euro 2008 games are viewed on three giant screens, has been extended to accommodate the half million people expected for Wednesday's game.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wrote a guest editorial for Berlin daily BZ in which he encouraged Turkish and German fans to party together in a "joyful and violence-free atmosphere."

"The hearts of many of our Turkish fellow-citizens are with both teams," Schaeuble wrote. "I am looking forward to a great game with great emotions. May not only the best team win but also the Germany-Turkey friendship."

Major Turkish migration to West Germany was spurred by the nation's post-World War II labor shortage and contributed to Germany's 1960s-70s economic boom, known as the Wirtschaftswunder, which relied heavily on "guest workers."

"For us, 'we' means both Germany and Turkey, so one of our teams is guaranteed a place in the final, and we're very happy," said Kenan Kolat, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany.

Germany coach Joachim Loew was among those acknowledging the possibility of clashes fueled by anti-immigrant factions.

"We live together in Germany and I dearly hope that there is no provocation surrounding this game," Loew said. "There is a great relationship between Turks and Germans."

Loew coached Turkish clubs Fenerbahce (1998-99) and Adanaspor (2001),

"The experience of living in Turkey and coaching Fenerbahce left an incredible impression on me," Loew said. "Turkey is a cherished experience for me. ... I remember the incredible hospitality and great human warmth of Turkish people. No matter where I went I was welcomed with open arms and it was an immensely gratifying experience."

The front-page headline of Hamburger Abendblatt read: "Let us celebrate a big soccer party."

Even Germany's best selling daily, the tabloid Bild, which often stokes nationalistic fervor with crude insults directed at Die Nationalmannschaft's opponents, took a different approach before Wednesday's game. Bild featured prominent Turkish-Germans, such as award-winning movie director Fatih Akin, and noted that Turkish doner kebabs are Germany's most popular fast food.

Adding further intrigue to the game is the fact that Turkey has boosted its national team program with players of Turkish heritage who came up through German soccer. While the German national team program has been slow to integrate the children of Turkish immigrants, the Turkish federation has set up an office in Cologne to scout them.

Turkey's Euro 2008 stars include Hamit Altintop and Hakan Balta, who were born and raised in Gelsenkirchen and Berlin, respectively.

"I feel like a German as well as a Turk," says Altintop.

Turkey's third-place team at the 2002 World Cup included four German-born players. Lüdenscheid native Nuri Sahin, star of Turkey's 2005 U-17 World Cup team, is the youngest player to appear in the Bundesliga, having debuted for Borussia Dortmund at age 16 in 2005.

That same year, Sahin became the youngest player to score for Turkey when he struck against Germany in a 2-1 Turkey friendly win, the most recent meeting between the two nations that last met in a major tournament at the 1954 World Cup.

Sahin is currently on loan to Dutch club Feyenoord.

Metin Tekin, who heads the Turkish federation's scouting operation in Germany, says Germany made the mistake of "for decades never showing an interest in players of Turkish origin."

Matthias Sammer, sporting director German federation (DFB), says, "For most players of Turkish origin, decisions are taken based on family influences."

But the DFB has recently become more aggressive at courting players from Germany's immigrant community and several players of Turkish heritage have begun appearing for Germany's youth national teams.

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