Turkey will be experiencing their fourth European Championship adventure after a miraculous qualifying process, which saw Selcuk Inan’s 89th-minute free-kick against Iceland help them to qualify as the best third-placed team.
Finishing behind Iceland and Czech Republic didn’t do their confidence any good (though they still finished above the Dutch), but the stress is over and the squad can focus on the finals in France. They’ll play against the Czechs in the last game of the group, too, providing a timely opportunity for the players and manager Fatih Terim to make amends.
Will Terim trust his in-form Besiktas stars?
Turkey’s manager has a tough decision to make – one very similar to that which faced Spain gaffer Vicente del Bosque before the 2014 World Cup. Atletico Madrid were Europe’s form team at the time but Del Bosque preferred to stick with his Barcelona-like structure, and everything fell apart.
Terim usually selects his players from Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, but in 2015/16 most of them were out of form or hit rock bottom psychologically. With Besiktas having won the league, Terim might benefit from building around his Black Eagles players instead.
If not, he has to spend extra time and effort preparing his squad for the tournament – Turkey have always been a team that gains its strength through motivation and ambition. Maybe they aren’t favourites, as Spain were in Brazil, but picking out-of-form players over rising names might increase their chances of returning home earlier than expected.
What they’ve learned
Don’t underestimate your opponent. Before the first game against Iceland, ex-national team player Hasan Sas ominously declared: “Even if Iceland players carry the ball with their hands, they will only come to our goal three times at most.”
That 3-0 loss came as a shock, then. And after losing at home to the Czech Republic and then drawing against Latvia, Turkey – with one point from three games – realised things would be much harder than they thought. In France they should be taking their business more seriously and not relying on last-gasp winners.
Unlocking the door
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Turkey have the most creative midfielders in their history. Arda Turan may have struggled at Barcelona but his performance in the Euro 2016 qualifiers were terrific. His leadership skills have improved significantly, and his team-mates trust him completely on the pitch. Meanwhile, Oguzhan Ozyakup – once of Arsenal – has had his best season yet at Besiktas, and Hakan Calhanoglu was one of Bayer Leverkusen’s best performers in the Champions League.
Mainz’s attacking midfielder Yunus Malli is coming off the back of an 11-goal season in the Bundesliga, and although he only made his debut for Turkey after the qualifiers had finished, having switched his allegiance from Germany, Malli could be Terim’s secret weapon on the bench.
Turkey are a relatively short team, which naturally causes some serious problems from set-pieces. Terim’s zonal marking system hasn’t been very effective, but neither is man-to-man when you don’t have many players taller than 6ft.
Opponents with a tall striker spell trouble for this Turkish side, even if they prefer to press high up the pitch. One decent long ball to a burly hitman might be enough.
And not only are the Turks sub-par at defending in the air, they rarely score from crosses themselves. In qualifying, only two of their 14 goals came from headers. Short passing might be an effective way of retaining possession and opening up a defence, but they’ll have to show physical toughness to challenge in a group with the Czech Republic and Croatia (plus, of course, Spain).
This could be Ozyakup’s big tournament. Having signed for Besiktas from Arsenal in 2012, the 23-year-old finally showed his potential this season thanks to manager Senol Gunes, helping his team to win the championship after seven barren seasons by registering nine goals and seven assists.
Former Besiktas manager Slaven Bilic usually played Ozyakup as a No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 formation because of his physical inadequacies, but in Gunes’ offensive strategy – in the same formation – he glows as deep-lying playmaker. Ozyakup’s game has matured: the Netherlands-born midfielder has started to receive more passes from his defence and build up attacks, as well as making effective off-the-ball runs behind opponents and improving his finishing ability.
Turkey manager Terim usually prefers to play him as an attacking midfielder, but with freedom on the pitch Ozyakup will be captain Arda Turan’s biggest helper this summer.
Probably the most successful manager in Turkish football history, Terim once again got his national team to another European Championship. In charge for both the 1996 and 2008 Euros – where Turkey didn’t win a point at the former and reached the semi-finals at the latter – the motivation master is best known for his fearlessness and energy.
With his ‘if you can’t win, don’t get beaten’ philosophy, Terim enters every competition to win, and nothing – or nobody – scares him. With a much more talented squad in comparison to previous tournaments, he’ll be confident of upsetting the odds once again.