In qualification Turkey didn’t play so well against their rivals from the group. But apart from the game in Istanbul against Greece, the side did begin to show they have the ability to change the result of a game with great comebacks. This has been repeated and for us Turkey fans the three group games have been like deja-vu.
Against Portugal Fatih Terim tried to go down as a hero. He played an attacking line-up starting with Mevlut and Kazim on the wings and Gokhan Zan in the centre of the defence (I expressed my doubts about him in my preview of the squad). For the first 15 minutes Turkey couldn’t find that goal, although our attacks looked quick and dangerous. Even though the attacks of Ronaldo, Simao and Deco were stopped in the first half, the defence forgot about Pepe who was a huge threat from set-pieces. After the Portuguese goal, Kazim made a number of fouls which constantly gave the play back to Portugal. After going behind in this game it was all over.
Going into the game against Switzerland neither team could afford to lose. Fatih Terim learnt from his tactical mistakes in the first game and started with Arda and Gokdeniz on the wings. But, with the heavy rain, the tactics of both teams were washed down the drain. Switzerland found the goal due to adapting better and playing a long ball up field, that with Emre Asik and Volkan’s positional mistakes helped Turkey go behind.
Turkey learnt and began too to play with long balls, in order to play this way Terim brought on Semih to replace Gokdeniz and importantly, Mehmet Topal for Aurelio, to hold the midfield against the Swiss. These substitutions and the change in style helped Turkey to change the game and play around the Swiss 18 yard area.
Crosses coming from the wings allowed Turkey to get the important goal, and though the Swiss did find some goalscoring positions, Volkan was at his best to deny them. His save in the 83rd minute was particularly important and many Turkish fans believe this is the moment when destiny intervened. The rest is history as Turkey threatened more and more and eventually Arda, the young shining star from Galatasaray, got the goal in the 92nd minute. If he continues such displays you have to wonder whether Galatasaray will be able to hold onto him for much longer.
The final group game against the Czech Republic was a final game that deserved its name. If the scores were level then it would go to penalties and neither team really wanted that. Turkey struggled to cope with Jan Koller and the ball stuck to him up. Nothing passed the big man as he held the ball up, he was like a wall. His goal in the 34th minute was not a surprise.
After the first half we again saw Terim change the game. He brought on Sabri who offered much more of an attacking threat. Sabri swapped positions with Hamit. This confused the Czechs as Hamit charged forward at will. The opposition still throught he was a right-back. Through playing closely with Sabri and constantly swapping position, both players were able to attack more effectively. The participation of Kazim too, meant that Turkey were able to own the right wing.
Turkey’s domination of that wing helped the second goal arrive, with the help of Cech and the rain of course! But we should not forget the follow up work of Nihat. He was acting like all good poachers do and waiting for the mistake.
The Czechs were of course puzzled to lose their two goal lead and the incredible through ball from Hamit followed by an amazing finish from Nihat gave Turkey their third and sent the Czechs out.
Looking at the Croatian game, all Turkish fans know they obtained fantastic results against England in qualification. This play has been repeated against Germany, so we all know it was no flash in the pan.
With their players like Modric, Kranjcar and Corluka, they seem to have re-discovered something of the spirit they had in the 1998 World Cup, which brought them third place.
Both Turkey and Croatia will fight hard because both are trying to make a place for themselves between the traditional footballing giants. Croatia coach Slaven Bilic’s admission that he fears Turkey’s ability to play in an unsystematic way (swapping positions constantly) makes many in Turkey believe that they are one step closer to victory.
Turkish fans are sure that thanks to the comebacks against Switzerland and the Czech Republic, the team are sure to go into the game with so much confidence. The feeling is that even if Turkey went a goal behind, it is never over and the players always feel they can win.
Of course the decisions of the managers of each team will be crucial. For Turkey though, the position in which Hamit will play will be very important, and missing Servet for the match is a real blow. But I cannot help but think that the match will in fact be decided by the number 14’s of each team, that is to say Modric and Arda. One will continue their journey in the Euros to become a star, but even if one is left behind, we will not forget their excellent play.