ISTANBUL, Turkey, AP
Turkey’s cities erupted in joy Tuesday as fans poured into the streets and squares to celebrate their soccer team’s 1-0 win over Japan, which sent the Turks into their first ever World Cup quarterfinals.
Seconds after the final whistle blew, Istanbul’s streets were a riot of sound and color — red and white, the national team’s colors. Waving flags and brandishing red flares, fans congregated in central Taksim square — and, it seemed, every other open space in this city of 12 million.
During the match, which brought the country to a standstill, with government and private business postponed, the city was eerily silent.
It soon wasn’t. Cars, blaring their horns, circled the streets of the city center, with fans leaning out of the windows waving flags and shouting. In Taksim, police soon closed the roads to traffic, leaving the square to a throng of bouncing, singing fans.
For Turks suffering a deep economic crisis, it was a rare chance to celebrate. The economy shrank 9.4 percent last year amid massive layoffs and falling living standards. Times remain hard — many fear a ew crisis could be looming — and through the gloom, the soccer team’s success has shone all the brighter.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, whose recent poor health has exacerbated Turkey’s economic woes, allowed television cameras into his Ankara home after the match.
“This is a very happy day for me, I share the joy of all our people,” said Ecevit, who is recuperating at home after a series of illnesses. “I congratulate the players and wish them success in the later stages.”
Fans partying on the streets said Turkey’s win had come as a much-needed lift.
“(Coach) Senol Gunes continues to write history,” said Ozcan Dogan, 23, a student. “It’s an injection of morale for a demoralized Turkish people.”
Gunes, the much-criticized coach who has become the hero of the hour, thanked his players — and hoped their adventure wasn’t over.
“Now we’re in the quarters and we’re thinking of the semis,” he told state TRT television. “From my heart, I want to congratulate all my players.”
“We felt the prayers of the Turkish people behind us,” said star striker Hakan Sukur. “Maybe those prayers can take us further.”
In the capital Ankara, central Kizilay square quickly filled with some 10,000 fans, dancing, singing, and waving flags.
“Turkey, Turkey is the greatest!” they chanted.
“We needed some morale … The soccer players gave us what the government failed to give us,” said Ustad Buyukkivanc.
The square turned into a microcosm of Turkey’s history. In one corner, an Ottoman marching band, clad in traditional tall hats and red robes, played marching music.
Elsewhere in the same square, fans were belly dancing to the music of modern Turkey’s biggest pop star, Tarkan.
Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek, perched atop a double-decker bus, kicked plastic footballs into the crowd. Fans scrambled to grab them.
A bewildered Canadian tourist found herself at the heart of the action.
“It’s great, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Pascale Bauln, from Montreal. “Congratulations!”
Dailies Hurriyet and Milliyet printed special afternoon issues to celebrate.
“We crushed (them) like Sumo fighters,” Hurriyet headlined. “Big in Japan,” read the headline in Milliyet.
Others had different reasons to cheer the win.
A father and son took advantage of the excitement to steal 14 golden bracelets from a jeweler’s store window, the Anatolia news agency reported. Police later nabbed the duo.
Two more wins would see Turkey — competing at its first World Cup for 48 years — in the final. In Turkey’s first appearance in 1954, it failed to progress beyond the group stage.
Turkish celebrations extended far and wide.
In Germany, where some 2 million people of Turkish origin make up the country’s largest minority group, celebrations could still be heard even hours after the victory.
In Berlin, packed cars drove slowly through the downtown area honking horns as passengers wildly waved Turkish flags. Some stopped for people to get out and sing victory songs before continuing on their impromptu parades.
Thousands of Turks also celebrated in Frankfurt and Hamburg.
In Paris, jubilant Turks paraded through the city centers wearing the national team uniform.