An enthralled 39,374 crowd at St. Jakob-Park in Basel was treated to footballing entertainment of the highest order as underdogs Turkey put up a stirring fight against an out-of-sorts but resolute Germany in the first UEFA EURO 2008 semi-final. Five goals, plenty of goalmouth action at both ends, an uncertain outcome until the final whistle and passion aplenty all culminated in a dramatic climax - and the making of a new hero. Philipp Lahm fired a stunning last-minute winner to seal his side's 3-2 victory and earn the Germans their sixth appearance in a European Championship final.

However, Joachim Low's men were pushed to the limit and beyond by the vibrant Turks, who charged off the blocks, took the lead, and continued to run and chase even after going 2-1 down with barely ten minutes remaining. "It was an incredible fight and unbelievably dramatic," a visibly drained Low commented after 90 memorable minutes.

"The Turks were outstanding. They made it incredibly difficult for us to get a grip on the game. Their equaliser to make it 2-2 was hard to take, but we showed huge desire, the will to win and great resolve. We went on the attack and looked for the decisive goal. At the end of the day, we were ruthlessly efficient, and that's what counted."

Lahm, the smallest man on the field at 1.70m (5ft 7in), became a towering symbol for German efficiency on the night. With the final whistle just seconds away, the technically adroit full-back played a slick one-two with Thomas Hitzlsperger, charged into the Turkish box and thumped a right-foot drive in at the near post to spark an outpouring of relief and elation among the Germans, who had always struggled to contain a physically fit and mobile Turkish side.

"We didn't play as well as we set out to do," Lahm confessed afterwards, "but there are ups and downs in every game, although obviously it was more extreme than usual today because of the late goals. You always try and perform at your best, and you always have to believe in your abilities and strengths. That was the case with me today, after I was partially at fault for their second."

German virtues rewarded
Lahm's determination and drive in the closing moments of the match neatly reflected a team display lacking movement and precision but long on traditional German virtues. "It was a hard, battling victory," Low acknowledged.

"The team fought its way back, which speaks volumes for our resolve. We were rewarded with a superbly worked goal. We're incredibly happy we've won the semi-final. It's a terrific feeling and we're overjoyed."

Miroslav Klose, who headed Germany into a 2-1 lead with 11 minutes remaining, was equally delighted at earning a place in the final. "What really matters is winning even when you're not playing especially well. Some of the teams who played superb football at this European championship have already gone home," he said.

Philipp Lahm is the man ultimately responsible for delaying Germany's flight home until next Monday at the earliest. The Bayern Munich defender, named man of the match afterwards, spoke of "the most important goal of my career" and reaped a chorus of praise from his team-mates.

"It wasn't easy, the Turks played really well. We came back well from going a goal down. It was tight at the end, but we're through thanks to Philipp Lahm's terrific goal," Lukas Podolski enthused.

After the dramatic semi-final triumph, Low and his men will be desperate to bring their campaign to a glorious conclusion in Sunday's final in Vienna. "It'll be a tough game," Lahm predicted, "but we're ready for anyone. Obviously, our goal is to bring the trophy back to Germany, especially for our fantastic fans."

Helping to do so would make the diminutive Lahm a player of truly great stature.