They may not be regulars at major tournaments but Turkey know how to make an impression when they do qualify for one. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, the Crescent Stars stormed to a third place finish, before claiming bronze the year after at the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup.
UEFA EURO 2008 also proved to be a similar theme: another semi-final finish. While they have struggled to consistently qualify for major tournaments in recent years, Turkey’s impressive record on the big stage makes them a dangerous opponent for anyone – and Beskitas forward Cenk Tosun is hoping to continue that trend.
“I hope we can go as far as we can at EURO 2016,” Tosun told FIFA.com. “Turkey is a team who normally have a good record at major tournaments. At the 2002 World Cup, we finished third and in 2008, we reached the semi-final of the European Championship, so I hope this tournament will be a good one for us also.”
Road to France
Paired alongside Croatia, Spain and Czech Republic, Turkey’s route to EURO 2016 was far from straightforward. Dreams of a tournament place looked bleak for Fatih Terim’s men who, after their opening three preliminary fixtures, found themselves languishing joint bottom of Group A alongside bottom-seeds Kazakhstan.
They embarked on a valiant unbeaten run, however, eventually sealing qualification in their final game when Galatasaray midfielder Selcuk Inan’s 89-minute free-kick found the net against Iceland, propelling Turkey to France 2016 as the best third-placed team.
“We didn’t get to the European Championship easily,” attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu told FIFA.com. “In the last few months, we had to work really hard to qualify.”
Spirit of 2008
Turkey approach EURO 2016 with a young, exciting squad, but one with relatively little major tournament experience – and Calhanoglu is among those tantalising prospects. Renowned as a free-kick specialist at Bayer Leverkusen, the 22-year-old is hoping to showcase the set-piece abilities he’s renowned for in Germany’s Bundesliga on the bigger European stage in June.
“It is going to be my first major tournament, so I’m very happy to get there,” said Calhanoglu. “I would like to show my free-kick qualities, as well as creating positions for my team-mates [on the pitch].”
Veterans Hakan Balta, Mehmet Topal and Arda Turan were central figures of the Turkey team that reached the final four in 2008 and whom look set to reappear at the EURO again this time around. By contrast, Tosun and Calhanoglu were both youth players at German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt and Karlsruher SC, respectively, when Turkey were denied a place at the final as Philipp Lahm netted a 90th minute winner for Die Mannschaft.
Like the other younger members of the Turkish dressing room, they will be looking towards the old guard of 2008 for guidance at their first major tournament, with Tosun paying particular reference to the importance of Turan, who missed Turkey’s friendly defeat against England on Sunday due to Spanish Copa del Rey duty with Barcelona.
“We have a good young team and they are important players for us," said Tosun, who goes into France 2016 in high spirits after claiming the Turkish league title with Besiktas. "We are definitely a stronger side with Arda Turan."
"They are helping us a lot,” agreed Calhanoglu of Turkey's veteran players. “We will be using their experience at the tournament.”