Turkish consistency the key to success

May 29, 2008
By Jon Carter
(Archive)

Having not made it into a major European competition before 1996, Turkey have rightly surprised a number of critics with their performances in recent years. However, with a failure to maintain consistency on the biggest stage, the Turks have often come up against it when they play teams of a greater calibre and they look like suffering a similar fate in Austria and Switzerland.

GettyImages / VladimirRysFatih Terim: Fiery character

Indeed, their wildly inconsistent form had seen them start qualifying with four impressive wins, including a 4-1 dismantling of European Champions Greece, before they sank away in the latter stages, ultimately finishing just one point ahead of Norway in Group C.

With some particularly poor results against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Malta and Moldova, Turkey flirted with elimination before finding the resolve to pull off a 2-1 win in Norway. A 1-0 victory at home to Bosnia eventually sealed their place in the tournament, but not without criticism.

Manager Fatih Terim is back for a second spell in charge after leading the team to Euro '96 in his first tenure (1993-96). It was Turkey's first appearance at a major finals for 42 years and was only pipped for success as the side stormed to third place in the 2002 World Cup, evenutally losing out to winners Brazil.

More success followed with a semi-final place at the Confederations Cup in 2003, but they failed to qualify for Euro 2004 before Terim took over again in 2005. Losing out to Switzerland in an explosive play-off for the 2006 World Cup made sure the Turks couldn't build on Terim's appointment and the critics surfaced.

Known as 'The Emperor', Terim is very well respected in his homeland due to his commanding style of leadership and fiery touchline antics. Basing much of his play on discipline, the former central defender likes his players to display passion on the pitch and the Turkish supporters (themselves some of the most fanatical in the world) have a great deal of time for this approach.

With this in mind the manager has been in confident mood ahead of the tournament, claiming that not only do a host of Premier League clubs have an interest in signing him, but also that Turkey will go on to become the surprise package of the finals.

If this is to happen, stability is the key and Terim's first decision is to pick his first choice goalkeeper. Recber Rustu, a long favourite of the Turkish side and former captain, has had problems with injuries at Besiktas and has failed to make any impression on the qualifiers. Meanwhile, Volkan has made the position his own in Rustu's absence but is prone to the odd gaffe, as he showed in Fenerbahce's win over Sevilla in the Champions League.

Either way, the Turks have struggled for consistency at the back without a commanding 'keeper and, unless they are taken to penalties (where both Volkan and Rustu have excelled), they'll find clean sheets hard to come by.

In defence, right-back Gökhan Gönül will be a big miss after 'the Turkish Cafu' bruised a metatarsal bone in his foot and was ruled out of the tournament in May. Missing his raids down the flank, Terim will have to rely on the untested likes of Ugur Boral, Hakan Balta and Sabri Sarioglu in the full-back slots.

Turkey are hardly the most stable defensive force and Gokhan Zan and Servet Çetin have been the only two mainstays of their qualifying competition. With no real leader capable of dragging the team forward from the back, their defenders have a propensity to switch off and usually rely too much on the tough tackling Mehmet Aurélio for protection.

In midfield, hopes surround Bayern's Hamit Altintop and playmaker Gokdeniz Karadeniz, who is beginning to make a mark on the national side after a big-money move to ambitious Russian club Rubin Kazan. Dogged by a betting scandal in 2005, for which he was given a six-month ban, Karadeniz is one of Terim's most in-form players and has been part of the national team set up since 1994 with the U16s, while Altintop has recovered from a metatarsal injury that looked to have ruled him out of the competition.

Emre will be captaining the side and looking to get back in form after failing to nail down a starting spot at Newcastle.

Good young prospects in the shape of Kazim-Kazim and Arda Turan mean there is hope for the future, but the 21-year-old Turan in particular is likely to make an impression far sooner on his favoured right flank with his impressive array of skills.

With Aurélio holding the fort in front of his defence and the likes of Karadeniz, Turan and Emre let loose on the attack, the Turks are certainly not lacking in the technical department. What they do lack is self-control.

GettyImagesNihat has been in great form in La Liga.

The post-match brawl after their World Cup qualifying game against Switzerland in 2006 showed the Turks' hot-headed side and there's even talk of revenge being stoked up before they meet again in the group stage. Indeed, with such fervent support, Turkey's players can sometimes get carried away with the emotion of the occasion and it would be a brave man who bets against them having a man sent off during their campaign.

The experience of Hakan Sukur, who scored five goals in qualifying, has been deemed surplus to requirements and the striker failed to make Terim's cut after being dropped in the final stages of their qualifying campaign.

The Galatasary veteran has already become the country's highest ever goal-scorer and his absence may be noticed more than many people think.

Still, without him, the combination of Nihat, who has been banging in the goals for Villarreal after missing most of last season with a serious knee injury, and Middlesbrough's Tuncay Sanli up front seems a far better proposition.

Nihat, whose two goals got Turkey through the final matches in qualifying, has great technical skill, an impressive eye for goal and will certainly be the man Terim turns to to look for inspiration in Suker's absence. He has been prolific at both his previous clubs Besiktas and Real Sociedad and, this season, has been in fine form for Villarreal - banging in 17 goals in their claiming of second place in La Liga.

Ultimately, the fitness of the front two and their players' temperament could prove crucial for Turkey's chances of success at Euro 2008. Their manager has talked them up as potential underdogs, but the reality is that the side have been too inconsistent to suggest that they will live up to their billing.

Having lost all three group games in Euro '96, Terim will be keen to avoid a repeat performance; but history suggests he shouldn't get his hopes up.


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