Turkey approach Euro 2020 in good form, recovering from Nations League relegation with a statement-making start to World Cup qualifying.
Following the departure of Romanian legend Mircea Lucescu in early 2019, Senol Gunes returned to the international hot seat for his second stint, having famously guided the nation to third in the 2002 World Cup, and he made relative light work of the qualifiers for this summer’s tournament.
The Crescent-Stars pipped England’s 2016 conquerors Iceland to second in Euro 2020 qualifying Group H, with France naturally securing first, denying the continent another brilliant rendition of the Viking Thunder Clap. And Turkey will be bringing their own extravaganza to table, only theirs is on the turf.
Gunes is blessed with a squad full of top talent and he will be hoping to mimic his exploits from South Korea nearly two decades ago. Turkey reached the semi-finals of this competition in 2008, but can they go one better this time around?
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The best players Turkey will bring to Euro 2020
Goalkeeper: Ugurcan Cakir
For years Fenerbahce legend and one-time Barcelona ‘keeper Rustu Recber manned the sticks, racking up a national record 120 caps, but in just a few months’ time it will be Cakir and his modest seven international appearances entrusted with the No. 1 jersey.
The 25-year-old looks to have overtaken Mert Gunok as Turkey’s number one, reward for his admirable performances in the Trabzonspor goal, keeping 13 clean sheets in the Turkish Super Lig, the joint-most in the division. Cakir played just one game in Euro 2020 qualifying, the final match against Andorra in which he kept a clean sheet, but started all three of Turkey’s recent World Cup qualifiers and the final friendly going into the tournament.
Defence: Caglar Soyuncu
When Harry Maguire upped sticks and left Leicester City for Man Utd in 2019, there were fears in the East Midlands that the Foxes would crumble and struggle to replicate the resilient showings of their top-half finish in 2018/19. However, the rapid emergence of Soyuncu quickly pacified those apprehensions as the club finished fifth in Brendan Rodgers’ first full campaign at the helm.
The former Freiburg defender took his time to settle, but once he had a whiff of the first team and was handed a chance to showcase his worth, he duly shone. Now one of the Premier League’s most complete centre-backs, his partnership with Liverpool up-and-comer Ozan Kabak certainly makes for a mouthwatering prospect.
Midfield: Hakan Calhanoglu
It’s hard to find a player more influential to club and country at this present moment than Hakan Calhanoglu. The scintillating playmaker was splitting defences for fun in Serie A all season, racking up an impressive nine assists, and inviting AC Milan fans to once again dream of Scudetto glory.
Things went awry in 2021, with arch-rivals Inter Milan stealing a march on their bitter neighbours and climbing to the summit, but Calhanoglu remained one of AC Milan’s top players as they secured Champions League football.
Forward: Burak Yilmaz
Ageing forwards seem to be all the rage at the minute and Burak Yilmaz is another seasoned striker who underpins the trend. The 35-year-old has thumbed his nose at Father Time and refused to let the typical dotage years of a footballer stymie his ability to remain at the top.
Yilmaz was sensational in Lille’s Ligue 1 title charge, netting a club-high 16 goals, while forming a robust and clinical partnership with Jonathan David, a forward 14 years his junior who is just behind him on 13 strikes. Calhanoglu will be licking his lips at the prospect of teeing up Yilmaz this summer, given the forward’s prolific form and experience.
The manager: Senol Gunes
The 2002 World Cup will always remain an evocative competition for Turkey and Gunes, who defied all expectations to lead his nation to a bronze medal finish, and subsequently earned UEFA’s Coach of the Year award for 2002. That feat remains the high noon of a managerial career that has spanned 32 years.
The 68-year-old is now back at the helm and has so far endured mixed success, first earning another gold star after cantering to Euro 2020 qualification, but collapsing in pitiful fashion across autumn as Turkey bowed out of League B in the Nations League, finishing bottom of their group with just one win before the recent revival.
Demiral: Turkey can benefit from postponement
It’s no secret that this summer’s European Championships were supposed to be played last year. After all, it is called (and is still referred to as) Euro 2020 – and not Euro 2021. For some nations, last summer was the best time for them to take part in the tournament, as their players were reaching their peak at just the right times.
However, Turkey defender Merih Demiral believes his nation have benefitted from the postponement, especially having had injuries ahead of last summer.
“I can say that the postponement of the tournament last year was good for us,” he said.
“I can say for myself that I am much better prepared. There is a very good national team that reached great success. I hope we will be successful in the upcoming period.”
Turkey’s concerning spell over autumn, in which they collected just the single win across their eight international outings between September and November, may be attributed to a lack transparency in Gunes’ set-up, with the evergreen tactician failing to settle of a consistent formation.
Various iterations of the 4-2-3-1 were deployed, while a narrow 4-4-2 diamond was also experimented with, both with varying degrees of success. In fact, Turkey’s only triumph came using a 4-3-3, and even that was far from a routine win, narrowly edging Russia 3-2, with Cenk Tosun leading the line and getting on the scoresheet.
Tosun’s inclusion came by virtue of established No. 9 Yilmaz missing out through suspension, having been handed his marching orders in the Nations League outing just prior, but the Everton striker (who spent the season on loan at Besiktas) misses out through injury.
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So, Yilmaz is expected to inhabit the central forward position as he did in World Cup qualifying, with an attacking trident of Kenan Karaman on the left, Calhanoglu in the hole, and one of Lille teammate Yusuf Yazici or Cengiz Under on the right, forming a devastating attacking support act.
A double pivot made up of Ozan Tufan and Okay Yokuslu will offer a competent blend of stability and energy, allowing full-backs Umur Meras and Zeki Celik to progress up the pitch and support the forward line.
The key question for Gunes remains in the heart of defence. Soyuncu and Kabak would, of course, make for an interesting and quite modern centre-back pairing, but Juventus defender Merih Demiral remains an elite option and one that possibly cannot be ignored.
Against more formidable nations, perhaps a back-three could work wonders, especially given the ball-carrying excellence of Soyuncu and Kabak, who could step into midfield and operate almost as a collection of pseudo-anchormen. So, Gunes has options, both with his personnel, and his systems.
The form guide
Euro 2020 qualifying: WDDWWWLWWW
It was a highly encouraging qualifying campaign for Turkey as they lost just once (2-1 vs Iceland) and collected seven wins, including a 2-0 triumph over world champions France, which proved to be far from a fluke as they collected a point in the reverse fixture as well. Those results ensured they finished second in Group H, four points above Iceland, meaning they have now qualified for successive European Championships for the first time since making it to England ’96 and Euro 2000.
Recent fixtures: WDWDWWLW
There were worries surrounding Turkey following their relegation from Nations League Group B3 but they bounced back in emphatic fashion to take an early lead in World Cup qualifying. Turkey opened Group G with a statement 4-2 win over Netherlands and then humbled Norway 3-0, taking out their two biggest rivals for qualification. A draw with Latvia will be regarded as a slip up, but it didn’t dampen Turkey’s spirits going into the summer as they continued their unbeaten run in pre-tournament friendlies.
Chances of winning:
Although autumn’s results were a real grab bag, Turkey will enter Euro 2020 with confidence given their quite brilliant qualification campaign. They went unbeaten against world champions France, including that aforementioned 2-0 win, and didn’t falter in friendlies against 2014 World Cup winners Germany and 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia, so they know they can tussle with the elite. That said, they approach the tournament unfavourably with bookmakers, with Sky Bet offering odds of 66/1 for them to go all the way and win the competition.
Gunes is a manager who knows how to handle tournament pressure and has previous in masterminding runs to the knockouts, so if you fancy Turkey to progress from a group comprised of Italy, Wales and Switzerland (Group A), then you can gets odds of 8/15 for them to do just that, or 5/1 for them to win the group.
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)