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Turkey have qualified sporadically in recent years for the European Championships, with mixed fortunes. A semi-final appearance in 2008 was their best showing, and they next reached the tournament in 2016 – crashing out in the group stage.
Their greatest football achievement, undoubtedly, came in the 2002 World Cup with a bronze medal the reward for the best side the country has ever produced. Hakan Sukur’s opener in the third-place play-off remains the fastest goal in World Cup history – netting after just 10.8 seconds.
Italy – Rome, Fri, June 11, 8pm
Wales – Baku, Wed, June 16, 5pm
Switzerland – Baku, Sun, June 20, 5pm
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Turkey got through in impressive fashion as runners-up just two points behind France in qualifying. A comfortable 2-0 home victory over the world champions and a competitive 1-1 draw away in Paris were the standout results of the campaign.
Their strong defence was key, proving difficult to break down and only conceding three goals in 10 games. Since qualifying, Turkey’s form hasn’t been as consistent with disappointing results in the Nations League of just one win and three draws. Things looked to get back on track in recent World Cup qualifiers though, with a 4-2 victory over the Netherlands a notable showing.
Senol Gunes heads the Turkey charge for the Euros. The 68-year-old is now in his second stint as manager of the national team, having previously led them to that third-placed finish at the 2002 World Cup. He was sacked in 2004 having failed to qualify for the Euros, but success followed in club management – most notably back-to-back Turkish Super Lig titles in 2016 and 2017 with Besiktas.
In 2019, Gunes returned to manage the national side and secured qualification for the Euros. Almost 20 years on from their greatest success, a nation hopes he can work his magic once again.
Turkey generally opt for a 4-2-3-1. In Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu and Merih Demiral they have an outstanding young defensive partnership. Demiral was an ever-present in qualifiers, but the 23-year-old Juventus star has struggled with injury this season. Liverpool loan man Ozan Kabak or Sassuolo’s Kaan Ayhan are decent options as cover for the pair though.
In midfield, much of the creative responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Hakan Calhanoglu. He chalked up nine assists for AC Milan and was fourth in the charts for Key Passes in Serie A this season.
Up top, Turkey will rely on captain Burak Yilmaz. At 35, he has looked better than ever, with his 16 goals and five assists helping Lille upset the odds and pip PSG to the Ligue 1 title. That good form was show in the last round of World Cup qualifiers too, with four goals in three games.
It’s that man Yilmaz. A recent hat-trick against the Netherlands highlighted the goalscoring threat he poses. While Turkey will rely heavily on their captain for goals – his all-round play is just as important. His outstanding hold-up play and his range of passing are two of his key strengths.
Cenk Tosun has missed out on the squad, and outside of the Everton man and Yilmaz there aren’t a great deal of goals at international level from the other forward players.
ONE TO WATCH
It’s easy to forget Caglar Soyuncu is only 24 given he’s such a commanding presence and he leads the defensive line like someone far beyond his years. After another strong campaign for FA Cup winners Leicester you can expect a big summer from the dominant centre-back – and if he plays to his potential, Turkey will prove hard to beat.
Here’s all the key data on Turkey’s squad.
- Squads and statistics correct at time of data sheet creation.
On paper, Group A looks just as competitive as Group F. Drawn alongside Italy, Switzerland and Wales, Turkey will know they have three tough games on their hands. The group opener takes them away to Rome to face hosts Italy, followed by two games in Baku. The travel schedule has been far less kind on Switzerland (who travel to Rome in their second match) and this could be decisive when Turkey meet them in the final group game.
While they should have enough to navigate their way out of the group, they lack strength in depth in attacking areas and should come unstuck in the knockout stages.
BEST BET: Turkey Double Chance v Italy
Much will be made of the opening game of the tournament in Rome, a year on from when the tournament was originally scheduled. Italy have home advantage, but Turkey have shown they are more than capable of taking on Europe’s elite with recent victories over France and the Netherlands.
Playing away will not phase them and the hosts may feel the pressure to get off to a winning start on home soil. Heavy favourites Italy have it all to do, and I expect the underdogs to do their best to spoil the opening night festivities.
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