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Upbeat Altintop

‘We’re fully capable of beating Germany’

Hamit Altintop is understandably in demand at the moment. On the one hand, his Turkey team-mates will be quizzing him about the Germany stars who play their club football alongside him at Bayern. On the other hand, the German media is queuing up for statements from the 25-year-old ahead of Wednesday’s Euro 2008 semi-final showdown.

Altintop is making no secret of the fact that Germany versus Turkey is “a very special match for me personally.” Hamit, born on 8 December 1982 in Gelsenkirchen, made his Bundesliga debut some 21 years later for Schalke 04, but left the Royal Blues for Bayern last summer, where he was a regular in the starting line-up before fracturing a metatarsal last March.

Praise for world-class Lahm

“I have Germany to thank for a lot – for everything basically,” he declares. However, his heart is Turkish through and through: “I believe in my country. The minute I pull on the shirt, I feel patriotic and a sense of belonging to Turkey.” That will certainly be the case on Wednesday evening at St-Jakob-Park in Basel, where he goes head-to-head with Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marcell Jansen. The right-sided Altintop is practically certain to cross paths with Lahm, the Germany left-back. “Philipp’s been world class at the Euro,” Hamit enthuses.

However, the former Schalke youth has earned a chorus of praise himself in the last ten days. Coach Fatih Terim began with Hamit at right-back, although he was switched to central midfield for the last one and a half matches, providing all three assists as the Turks dramatically downed the Czechs in a do-or-die group decider, and netting the decisive penalty in a shoot-out triumph over Croatia in the last eight. “I congratulated Hamit after the last group match. He’s one of Turkey’s best and a real leader,” Podolski said admiringly.

Hamit missing Halil

“I have a say in our tactics nowadays. Terim has faith in me. I’ve earned it the hard way, I’ve started every game in the last three years,” the 25-year-old reflects, revealing he had taken the Turkish boss to task over his twin brother Halil’s failure to make the squad. “Terim said his performances hadn’t been up to scratch. That came as a shock,” admits Hamit, who is calling his brother several times a day from the tournament: “He would have loved to be here, but he’s delighted his twin brother’s doing well.”

Terim would probably be delighted himself if he had the chance to call on Schalke striker Halil for the Germany clash, as injury and suspension have reduced the coach to 15 eligible players. Hamit Altintop remains defiantly upbeat. “It doesn’t matter how many injuries or bans we have, I’m totally convinced we’ll make the final. We have other players who might be less well known, and these lads are unbelievably fired up.”

Emulating the Greeks

The FCB man feels Turkey should remain true to their philosophy against favourites Germany. “We have a great chance provided we play to our strengths.” Fighting spirit and a never-say-die attitude have seen the Turks triumph against the odds no less than three times so far. “Passion and emotion are our attributes, and we make them count on the field,” Altintop remarks, “we ran until our feet were blistered against the Croats.”

The Bayern star knows he and his team-mates have nothing to lose in the semi-final. “Why should we be nervous? If we play as a team, we’re perfectly capable of beating Germany,” he declares, insisting Turkey could go all the way this year: “Who knows, maybe we’ll emulate the Greeks in 2004 and carry off the trophy this time.”