ANKARA, Turkey The armies of the Ottoman Empire could not conquer Vienna. Eleven soccer players from Turkey can.
That's the way many Turks feel, a heady, near-mystical sense that Turkey's underdog run to the European Championship semifinals involves more than goal scoring. To these fans, it's about pride and patriotism; ethnic identity and insecurity; centuries of conflict and coexistence; and the prickly, modern-day relationship between Turks and the West.
"There is an unwritten condition here in this country, the desire to show to the world what the Turks can do as a soft power," said Huseyin Bagci, a Turkish academic. "The Turks are bringing a new flair to Europe. It's like putting something spicy into food."
But it's not just us versus them. The team has showcased Turkish skill, tenacity and even the most fanatic of fans grudgingly admit mind-bending luck in comeback wins against the Swiss, Czechs and Croats.
Turkey's opponent in Basel, Switzerland, on Wednesday is Germany, home to nearly 3 million Turks, some of whom moved there as "gastarbeiter," or guest workers, for low-paying jobs in the 1960s. Two of Turkey's top players, Hamit Altintop and Hakan Balta, grew up in Germany, came through Germany's soccer system and play for Bundesliga teams.
So Turks and Germans are intertwined, despite questions about assimilation and racially tinged tension that occasionally boils into violence. The bond is evident among Turks, at least at places such as Manolya, a Turkish restaurant in Frankfurt that is decorated with Turkish and German flags.
"Great! The best thing that could happen to us," waiter Celalettin Dagan, who came to Germany when he was 7 years old, said of the semifinal matchup between his two favorite teams. "If Germany advances, then we will be behind them."
Turkey and the European Union are also partners, or would-be ones. The mostly Muslim country with a secular system wants to join the European Club, but the process is drifting badly, afflicted by European uneasiness and Turkish aggravation with terms it says are unfair.
It's extra sweet, then, for Turks who are dealing defeat to European opponents, albeit on the soccer field rather than the battlefield. Ottoman rule dissolved nearly a century ago, but the demise of imperial glory is often blamed on the meddling of Western colonial powers.
"Joyful Turks conquered Vienna!" the Turkish daily Hurriyet said after Turkey's win over Croatia in a penalty-kicks shootout in the Austrian capital. The headline recalled Ottoman campaigns in Europe, repelled at the strategic city of Vienna in 1529 and 1683. By the time of the latter siege, Ottoman military prowess and economic vigor were in decline, and Europe was in the ascent.
More than a dozen people were injured in fights between fans after the game against Croatia on Friday night. Triumphant Turks started many of the rumbles.
Turkey has known soccer success, finishing third in the World Cup held in South Korea and Japan in 2002. There, its opponents included Brazil, Senegal and Asian nations, but victory in Europe, the cradle of global soccer, is "more important," said Gursoy Delioglu, a chemistry teacher in Istanbul.
Delioglu will watch the Germany showdown on a boat in the Bosporus Strait, which flows between the European and Asian sides of the former Ottoman capital. Most fans will be land-bound; if Turkey wins, cities will reverberate with whoops, car horns, fireworks and even celebratory gunfire.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the national team had inspired "all people around the world who have to succeed despite difficult conditions, shortcomings and disadvantages."
Prospects for Turkey against the experienced, relentless Germans look grim, with key players out because of injuries and suspensions. But Turks place hopes in coach Fatih Terim, known as the "Emperor" because he expects total obedience, directing players like a military commander.
Terim embodies the intense nationalism in Turkey, where some feel their sovereignty is under threat from Kurdish rebels, Christian and other minorities, Western powers and accusations that Turks committed genocide against Armenia in the early 20th century.
Turkey's Nobel prize winner, writer Orhan Pamuk, once said Terim was an "ultranationalist." Terim responded that Pamuk, who was prosecuted for allegedly insulting Turkish identity, was a "deficient nationalist."
The spectacle of euphoric crowds waving the red and white national flag makes liberal Turks nervous about possible intolerance among people who find an outlet in soccer, while none exists in the grind of daily life.
"People just think that they are better than the rest of the world," said Burak Demircioglu, a freelance translator in the Mediterranean city of Izmir. "This is success for them. It's all about winning."
Hasmet Babaoglu, commentator for Vatan newspaper, noted that Palestinians in Gaza and Muslims in places like Sarajevo have supported Turkey. The Turkish team, he said, "has become the voice of the Muslims who are being forced to throw in the towel, but who are resisting."
Bagci, the academic, said Turkey's success was a rare source of unity in a country where a deep rift is emerging between pious Muslims who back a government with a strong electoral mandate, and the military-backed elite that believes secular ideals are in peril. Similarly, ethnic Turks and Kurds, who have long faced discrimination in Turkey, rally around the team.
"Nobody can explain by rationality how Turkey is scoring. We have been wondering too," said Bagci, professor of international relations at Ankara's Middle East Technical University.
Turkey's soccer glory seems to validate the idea, often a hindrance for Turkish athletes, that unruly emotion and self-belief are a better bet than cold-blooded logic and experience. Ask Turks who will win on Wednesday, and they tend not to assess player skills or tactical advantages. "It's 50/50," they say."Showing the power of the Turk to the entire world," goes an old Turkish saying. On Wednesday, if defeat looms in the final minutes, some Turks might murmur another expression: "The Turk comes to his senses late."
Euro 2008 semifinals
Turkey vs. Germany
Today at 12:30 p.m.
Associated Press writer Antje Homburger in Frankfurt contributed to this report.