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Altintop Turkey's Main Man Ahead of "Game of the Century"

Turkish communties in Germany are calling the upcoming Euro 2008 semi-final the "game of the century". One man carrying more hopes than he thought he would, is Hamit Altintop, Turkey's surprise player of the tournament.

A Turkish supporter in the tribune prior to the UEFA EURO 2008 quarter final match between Croatia and Turkey

Turkey fans are looking to Hamit Altintop to continue his good form in the semi-finals

From the start of the tournament Turkey's coach Fatih Terim has had to change his side time and again, as players picked up injuries or were ruled out through suspension.

At times he has had just 17 players out of a squad of 23 available for selection and ahead of Wednesday's semi-final clash in Basle against Germany, this number could even decrease, as four players are out suspended and several others have picked up injuries.

Amongst those that have fallen by the wayside are Villarreal's star striker Nehat Kahveci, who has already returned to Spain to receive treatment and Premiership players Tuncay Sanli (suspended) and Emre Belozoglu (injured).

With so many absentees, Terim desperately needed a player who could inspire his team-mates, one who could lead them to greater heights.

Luckily for the coach, who led Turkey to their first-ever Euro qualification in 1996 before stints at several clubs, including Turkish giants Galatasaray and Serie A club AC Milan, he found such a player in Hamit Altintop.

Altintop a surprise choice for star player

Turkey's Hamit Altintop (R) controls the ball in front of Croatian player Luka Modric during the UEFA EURO 2008 quarter final match between Croatia and Turkey

Hamit Altintop has been a reliable member of the squad

The German-born versatile midfielder, who plays his club football for German champions Bayern Munich, has been used by Terim in different roles -- wherever he needed a solid player who was prepared to go the extra mile.

In the dramatic quarter-final against Croatia, Altintop put in a match-winning performance.

His statistics for the game speak for themselves. The 25-year-old covered an amazing 14.216 kilometers in the game and was named as the man of the match.

And when the Turks needed a man to take the all-important third penalty that would give them a virtually unassailable 3-1 lead in the concluding shootout, Altintop took on the responsibility and slammed the ball into the back of the net.

Not surprisingly, all that Altintop wanted to do after the game against Croatia, was rest.

"I know our next game is against Germany, but first it is important to rest. Then we will analyze their team," he said. "I think we can play well against any other team including Germany. It is important to believe in ourselves and in what our coach says, if we do that, then I think we can beat anyone.

Turkish star in contact with German buddies

Munich's Miroslav Klose, lefts, celebrates with his teammate Hamit Altintop

Hamit won't be hugging Miro if Klose scores on Wednesday

"We must attack (the Germans) early and enforce our attacking game. Then we stand a chance. It is clear that we have to deal in a special way with Michael Ballack if we want to make the final. And of course with the Bayern boys."

He said that he had regular contact with the other Bayern players via SMS text messages, but had no bet going.

Against Croatia, the Turks managed for the third time in a row to win a match through last minute goals. For Altintop, their late surge is not surprising.

"Our greatest strength is out emotion and passion. We have plenty of both on the field,” said Altintop. "There is an excellent spirit in the team. We have respect for each other and are honest and open with each other."

Hamit has an identical twin brother Halil who also plays for Turkey, but was surprisingly dropped from the squad.

He speaks to his brother often: "We talk on the phone several times every day, sometimes three or four times. It is natural that he would like to be here. He is happy for the success of his twin brother."

In the run-up to the tournament, all the talk was about Altintop's Bayern team-mates Luca Toni, Franck Ribery and Miroslav Klose, but while they have all disappointed, Altintop has grabbed a fair share of the headlines.

And Hamit Altintop is now hoping to grab even more by taking Turkey past the country of his birth -- all the way to the final.

German Turks preparing for "game of the century"

Turkey's possible run to that final has given the white crescent moon and star on the red Turkish flag a brighter glow than usual as Germany's huge Turkish community gets ready for Wednesday's match.

Fans of the Turkish national soccer team celebrate Turkey's 2-1 win over Switzerland after a public screening of the match in the city center of Frankfurt

Germany has been awash with Turkish flags this month

Hundreds of Turkish homes and shops in the German capital and other cities have been decked out in the national colors for what many in the community are calling "the match of the century."

The vast majority of the Turks glued to their television screens will be rooting for Turkey, but others will be cheering for Germany as well.

There are about 2.2 million Turks living in Germany, almost one-quarter of them with German passports. Berlin, with 140,000 Turks, has one of the world's largest Turkish expatriate communities.

Turks have been coexisting with Germans for more than 40 years since the first wave of "Gastarbeiter" or guest workers arrived in the early 1960s.

Lots of the older Turks still retain their Turkish values with pride, but their German-born children feel more at home in German society, sometimes bringing them into conflict with their parents.

Turkish communities have grown in the industrialized Ruhr region and in Berlin suburbs like Kreuzberg, Wedding and Neukoelln, where kebab shops, Turkish bakeries and vegetable stands confirm the cliché of Turkish life.

Loyalties divided between both teams

Flagge Fotomontage Symbolbild Türkei Deutschland

Many Turks in Germany also feel that they are German

"We are Turks, but we also consider ourselves German," says Mustafa Yildiz, chairman of the Yavuzeli-Sarilar cultural association. German and Turkish flags decorate the entrance of the club in Kreuzberg, but inside only black coffee and tea is served, not beer.

Up to 500,000 people are expected to watch the game on three giant screens in a public viewing area near the Brandenburg Gate, where a million people experienced the World Cup final two years ago.

Turkish music groups will be among the entertainers livening up the crowds along the fan mile ahead of the game and security guards will search people before they are allowed into the fenced-off area.

Police said they would make use of anti-conflict teams, some of them with Turkish speakers, to defuse any potentially dangerous situations among rowdy fans - a procedure that worked well in 2006.

But law enforcement officials are confident that events will pass off peacefully, regardless of which team makes it through to the final in Vienna on June 29.

They pointed out that the number of arrests for violent behavior and drunkenness after earlier European Championship matches involving Germany or Turkey was not a cause for concern.

Thousands of Turks in Berlin celebrated peacefully into the early hours by letting off fireworks and driving in motorcades after their country's quarter-final elimination of Croatia.

"I'm sure the semi-final between Germany and Turkey will be a great community festival," said Guenter Piening, the Berlin Commissioner for Integration.

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