Road to the finals
Turkey have re-emerged on the international scene following a period of missed opportunities, having failed to reach the finals of EURO 2004 and the World Cup in 2006. The blow has been particularly bitter seeing as they managed to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2002, and were hoping to build upon that success. However, a mixture of bad luck and poor form has conspired against them, and they will be keen to make an impression now that they are back on form.
Playing their qualifying campaign in Group C, they were up against the previous tournament champions Greece in what would prove a roller-coaster ride that would eventually see them emerge as second-place qualifiers.
When looking at the problems that the campaign faced, it is difficult to see where it all went wrong for the Turks, as the beginning of their campaign couldn’t have got off to a better start.
They won their first four games on the trot, including a 4-1 away win against Greece after coming from a goal behind, which had pundits stating that qualification was going to be a formality. For their first three games, they didn’t even concede a goal, and their attack was proving as devastating as their defence was solid.
However, the tables dramatically turned following this period of success, and out of the following six matches they only managed to win one game. This string of performances included some truly dreadful results, the worst of which included a 3-2 loss to Bosnia Herzegovina and a 2-2 draw with Malta. The team and the coach came in for a lot of scepticism after the Malta match, and it was clear that the campaign was facing severe problems.
Things got worse in October 2007 when they could only manage a 1-1 draw with Moldova, and their loss to Greece 1-0 at home in the following game saw the Greeks qualify for the competition, leaving Turkey languishing in third place with their qualification anything but certain.
In their penultimate game in November, they journeyed to Oslo to take on second-place Norway, who would have ensured their own qualification and the end of the road for the Turks had they won the match. As it was, the Turks won the game 2-1 after coming back from a 12th minute goal by Erik Hagen. Captain Emre Belozoglu was the one who turned the game around with his crucial equaliser after 30 minutes, and Nihat Kahveci ensured that they went into the last match with an advantage by scoring on 60 minutes.
Their place was still not certain, and they played host to Bosnia Herzegovina knowing that only a win would guarantee their place at the finals. In the end, Kahveci proved the hero once again by scoring in the 43rd minute, and their 1-0 victory ensured that they qualified for the competition, albeit only one point above Norway.
Terim’s success in taking Turkey to the finals of a major competition after two missed tournaments is a success in itself. However, he will not be there to make up numbers, and has already claimed that they will make a ‘significant contribution’ at the competition.
It is not his first time in charge of the national team, having previously taken them to EURO 96, which was their first finals appearance since the 1954 World Cup. Although they lost all of their games, their qualification was still seen as a triumph.
After leaving the setup, he was re-established as coach in 2005, with the aim of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. They failed to do this, although came incredibly close in a tense qualifier with Switzerland.
Known as ‘Imparator’, or ‘The Emperor’, he is something of a hero in Turkey, having played for the national team on 51 occasions, and captaining them on 31 of those. His coaching history also includes a period in charge of Galatasaray AS, who he took to four league titles and UEFA Cup success in 2000.
Ones to watch
Emre Belŏzoglu – Midfielder
Left footed Emre currently plays for Newcastle, and has enjoyed great success at the club. He played his first match for Turkey at the tender age of 16, and has since become a major player in the squad. His temper is his weakness, and he was banned for six matches following the scenes which followed the Turkish team’s loss to Switzerland in the World Cup qualifier in 2005. However, his talent is clear for all to see and he will be hoping that it is this aspect that shines through during the tournament.
Nihat Kahveci – Striker
Kahveci has scored a number of crucial goals throughout the qualification campaign to ensure that he will be a key member of the squad for the competition. He has also been on fine form for club team Villarreal this season, scoring an impressive 24 goals in all competitions. His made his international debut in 2000, and the 28 year old will be hoping to make his mark on the competition, seeing as he missed out on the last two.
Gökhan Gönül – right fullback
At only 23 years of age, Gönül has been a revelation for the Turkish team during the qualification campaign, really coming of age and proving just what he is capable of. His first cap for the national team came as recently as November 2007 in the crunch game against Norway, and the fact that he was even chosen for such a crucial game speaks volumes about how much trust the coach has in him. His passes have been made with precision and his ability to tease defenders has earned him a definite place in the Turkish line-up. He will be desperate to prove his talents on the world stage after performing well of this club Fenerbahçe this season.
Turkey will be hungry for success after six years in the international wilderness. They only lost out narrowly to qualification for the 2004 and 2006 finals, and will feel like they must make the most of it now that they are here.
However, their progression to the quarter-finals will be tested by their inclusion in a group alongside Portugal and the Czech Republic, who will be the favourites to go through.
The encounter with Switzerland will be an interesting one, due to the ugly scenes that erupted following their loss to the Swiss in the playoffs for the World Cup in 2006, which led to Turkey playing their next three games at neutral grounds, and players on both sides being banned from playing for a number of games.
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