Turkey Profile - The New Soccer Power
When the Socceroos host Turkey at Aussie Stadium on May 21 and the Telstra Dome on May 24, they will be taking on one of the more prominent nations in world soccer today.
By Ben Coonan
Turkey exploded to global prominence in 2002 after their sensational performances saw them snatch third place at the World Cup in Korea/Japan. Now, they find themselves accelerating their plans for Germany 2006 with a host of usual suspects and a new coach at the helm. Without question, Turkey is one of world soccer-s rapid-improvers. After an age of under-achievement and false dawns, the Turks have accelerated their development alarmingly in recent times and have firmly established themselves as a true world power. Now under the guidance of Ersun Yanal, the former boss of Socceroo Josip Skoko-s Genclerbirligi, the Turks are on their way to Australia to face the Socceroos in the first international matches on Australian soil in almost three years. With a new coach to impress and a World Cup qualifying campaign around the corner, one can be assured that Turkey will be at their peak in Sydney and Melbourne. The two game series will be the first ever between the two nations at senior level, the only previous encounter of any note being in September 2003, where the Turkey Olympic team prevailed 2-1 at home against the Olyroos. So what is Australia to expect of FIFA-s seventh ranked nation? Fervour. Excitement. Vehemence. Just three words that summarise Turkish football. Since their induction to FIFA-s soccer family in 1923, they have brought a passion and exuberance to the world game that is seldom paralleled. It is only recently, however, that the Turks have enjoyed a period of notable success. In sixteen World Cup-s from 1930 to 1998, Turkey were participants only once, that being in Switzerland 54-. On that occasion, the Turks were eliminated at the group stage after falling to eventual winners West Germany 4-1, before trouncing Korea 7-0. This signaled the start an exhausting 47-year exile from the world-s showpiece soccer tournament. For Turkish fans, the performances that broke that duck were well worth the wait. As has now become famous, the second, and only other Turkish World Cup team, achieved unprecedented success at Korea/Japan 2002. Having been reduced to nine men in a spiteful opening loss to eventual winners Brazil, the Turks regrouped, defeating China PR, Japan and Senegal before lucking out to Brazil once more at the semi final stage. Overnight it seemed, Turkey had become a nation to be respected. Whilst many were surprised at their devastating run in Korea/Japan, just as many knew that a result of that magnitude was not far away for one of Europe-s form sides. The rise and rise of Turkey first came to light in Euro 96-, where an inexperienced side contested their first European Championships in England. Even though the tournament was not a memorable one for Turkey, they lost all their matches and scored no goals, it did lay the foundation for a successful term that climaxed in Korea/Japan. Four years further on, and the Turks were at the Euro finals again, Belgium/Holland being the venue. This time, Turkey put forth a serious challenge and on the receiving end of it were the co-hosts. In their final group match, the Turks were hoping for an unlikely win against Belgium to keep their quarterfinal aspirations alive, having lost to Italy 2-1 and drawing 0-0 with Sweden in their earlier games. The result was a clinical 2-0 victory and the man responsible for both goals will go down in history as one of European soccer-s all time greats. Hakan Sukur (pictured above), believed by many to be Turkey-s greatest player of all time, was at the epicenter of the Turks 00- campaign and continues to mesmerize fans for both club and country with his undoubted goal scoring ability. In 91 appearances for his country, the Galatasaray marksman has netted 41 goals. History will show that Turkey exited Belgium/Holland 00- after going down to Portugal 2-0 in the second round. Regardless, Turkey-s tag as also-rans had well and truly been extinguished by now and what was to follow in Korea/Japan was just reward for a very fruitful decade for the middle-easterners. In Korea/Japan, aside from the brilliant Sukur up front, few would have identified with the rest of Turkey-s support cast. Following their Asian success however, names like Rustu Recber, Emre Belozoglou and Hasan Sas have become revered in soccer circles worldwide, effectively paving the way for some big moves to the elite clubs of Europe. These days, Emre teams up with countryman Okan Buruk at Inter Milan and Rustu Recber is the last line of defense for Catalan giants FC Barcelona. Before their successes in Korea/Japan, Turkey-s football notoriety was derived primarily from their impressive reputation at domestic level. Turkey-s big three Istanbul based clubs, Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce have all enjoyed considerable success locally and to a lesser extent, in Europe. In the Turkish League-s 80-year history, the league crown has gone to a side other than the Istanbul trio on just eight occasions, six of those being to Socceroo Michael Petkovic-s Trabzonspor. In Europe, Galatasaray have the most to boast about, consistently figuring in Champions League equations and having the 2000 UEFA Cup trophy in their cabinet. The red and gold-s continue to dominate the domestic scene and with a host of national representatives on their books, including Sukur and Sas, it is little wonder why. Almost two years on from their fantastic run in Korea/Japan, the Turks appear to have fallen from grace somewhat. Amazingly, Turkey failed to qualify for next months Euro Championships in Portugal after firstly being edged out by England in the group stages and then losing a two-match playoff against less fancied Latvia. Following on from their shock defeat to Latvia in late 2003, Turkey has one win, one draw and one loss to their name in 2004. After a 1-0 home loss to Euro 2004 finalists Denmark in February, the Turks have posted a 2-2 draw away to Croatia and a 3-2 win away to Belgium. The game in Brussels was Yanal-s first as head coach and ended a baron spell for the Turks that had seen them go six matches without a win. Next up are the Socceroos and Yanal has called on his big guns to fire in Sydney and Melbourne. Sukur, Recber, Sas, Belozoglou and Buruk are all on their way, as well as a selection of the best youth Turkey has to offer. Following the two match series that begins this Friday, the Turks return home via Korea Republic to prepare for the next round of World Cup qualifiers that begin in August. Turkey has drawn a typically tough European group that features Euro 04- finalists Denmark and Greece, as well as the tricky Georgia and Ukraine. Indeed, the Turks are in a phase of transition and following on from their failure to seal a berth in Portugal next month, Yanal-s men come to Australia with a point to prove. Make no mistake; a world-class team is in town and fans at Aussie Stadium on Friday and the Telstra Dome on Monday are in for a treat.