Two sides to Turkey mean Crescent-Stars midfield is key to Euro 2016
Holly Thackeray | April 23, 2016
Turkey are a curious team, certainly not lacking for top-drawer talent, yet still made tough work of qualifying for Euro 2016. Having since been catapulted into perhaps the trickiest group in France they are least fancied at 5/6 with Coral to escape from Pool E, never mind finish first (8/1).
Most memorable to viewers as the unpredictable outfit which finished third in the 2002 World Cup, before going on to fail to qualify for the next three tournaments, or as the side which secured a semi-final berth at Euro 2008 before also faltering in attempts to reach the 2012 finals – they epitomize the cliches dark horse and surprise package.
This current Fatih Terim vintage seems no different after a dismal start to their qualifying group left a Euro 2016 berth in doubt, only for the European gateway team to rally to finish as best third-placed team ahead of the Netherlands.
Still, well-stocked with stardust and notable names in midfield, there is much about the Crescent-Stars, aside from reported inner-camp turmoil, that intrigues. Which Turkey will turn up for the finals? The plucky underdogs or the underwhelming team of early qualifying?
Will defensive omissions cost Terim’s team?
Best value at 15/8 to be eliminated in the last 16, Turkey’s rearguard must be resilient with the likes of reigning tournament champions Spain, and prickly prospects the Czech Republic (who beat them once in qualifying) and Croatia to resist.
It seems the Crescent-Stars could have shot themselves in the foot, however, as apparent dissent in the defensive ranks means some prominent names could be missing.
Domestically decorated keeper Volkan Demirel of Fenerbahce fame is likely to be an absentee after losing his number one spot to Volkan Babacan, who has been favoured over his older peer after an apparent dispute with a supporter. Still, that is a loss of vast experience in net, as diligent Demirel boasts over 60 caps and 19 clean sheets across that time for his country.
The 34-year-old Fenerbahce captain has ensured shut-outs in 15 of his 29 Turkish Super Lig matches this term, though Babacan of Medipol Basaksehir has earned his stripes with four clean sheets in his eight contributions to qualifying.
Elsewhere in a rearguard which leaked nine in 10 as Turkey attempted to reach the France finals, German-born Omer Toprak, long-linked with a Premier League move from Bayer Leverkusen, seems to have been the one to lose out after apparent upsets with international teammates and wingers Hakan Calhanoglu and Gokhan Tore.
Though, as Tore saw red against Iceland, and has subsequently been suspended for two matches, perhaps there could be scope for Toprak to return if his club colleague now does not make the cut.
Midfield magic aplenty
Undoubtedly Turkey’s strength lies in the centre of the park, so they should at least be able to go toe-to-toe with Croatia, whose hopes will also focus on their midfield schemers.
While, against qualifying Group A betters the Czechs, the Crescent-Stars have shown they can both capitulate to or defeat these familiar foes, depending which Turkey team turns up on the day.
That leaves Spain and, while tactician Terim’s stars do not measure up to La Roja’s incredible midfield roster, they still have an enviable selection. It all depends on the combination.
Skipper Arda Turan’s inclusion in the starting XI is a no-brainer, though rustiness must be a concern as the 29-year-old is far from first-choice with club Barcelona.
Still, the wingman is an inspiration for his nation, and their best attacking player with a handful of vital strikes in qualifying and the experience and respect of elite competition behind him.
Further back in the anchoring roles, it looks to be a coin toss between Borussia Dortmund playmaker Nuri Sahin and Fenerbahce utility man Ozan Tufan to partner trusted veteran and recent surprise goal hero Selcuk Inan.
Younger talent Tufan (21) has had the nod most recently in Turkey’s successful run, and is the flavour of the moment as silky and still accomplished, but inconsistent, Sahin (now 27) once was.
As for those Turan will be tasked with leading in France, many of his peers are still based in Turkey, with just four from Terim’s last squad selection playing abroad.
Attacking midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup is one such player who remains among home comforts, currently plying his trade for Besiktas, though at 23 he is far from being labelled one who preferred being a big fish in a small pond, or a fallen protagonist that has returned to the fold.
With nine goals and eight assists for the Black Eagles, this dangerman of Dutch birth and former Arsenal academy star could yet enter the competition with the confidence of having hit double figures for his club. One to watch.
Meanwhile, marksman Burak Yilmaz is at the opposite end of his career, having reached 30 and now toiling in the Chinese Super League. Still, he remains Turkey’s most heroic hitman as their top scorer in qualifying with four and an overall haul of 19 in 42 caps.
Cenk Tosun (24) is the forward waiting in the wings, and certainly put himself in the frame for at least the bench after dispatching a recent double against Sweden and having bagged 15 in all competitions for Besiktas.
The last, but my no means least, component in Turkey’s attack is Leverkusen set-piece specialist Calhanoglu (22) who could yet surpass Turan’s star at this tournament. Bundesliga fans will know this trickster and his as yet unreached ceiling well, and his free-kick nous will certainly add an extra dimension to the Turkish team.
If there are any tight matches, this may the man who unlocks defences. All Turkey need to do is keep it close-knit at the back, channel the team spirit from the run that saw them qualify for France, and let their abundance of midfield flair do the rest.