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Turkey Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's Euro 2020 finals, Sports Mole assesses the chances of a young Turkey team, who will seek to improve on their group stage exit in France five years ago.

With expectation rising rapidly at home, Turkey head into this summer's delayed European Championship with a talented but inexperienced squad, aiming to make an indelible impression on the watching world.

Seeking to emulate the achievements of their lauded 2008 counterparts - who enjoyed a remarkable run to the semi-finals - the current Crescent-Stars will hope that their generation can also cause some upsets and go deep into the competition.

Turkey's Kaan Ayhan celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on May 27, 2021© Reuters

Having also reached the last four of the 2002 World Cup, there is certainly some precedent for such success. However, in recent years, the transcontinental nation - which straddles Europe and Asia - has often seen its teams frustratingly fail to deliver when it really matters.

Now, though, veteran coach Senol Gunes - who returned to the hotseat in 2019, having orchestrated their third-place finish in the Far East - can boast a squad which marries significant substance in defence with the flair traditionally associated with Turkish sides.

As several gifted young defenders have recently come through the ranks to bolster their rearguard, the team representing a nation of football obsessives now enter Euro 2020 with arguably their best squad in twenty years.

Here, then, Sports Mole assesses Turkey's chances of matching their predecessors and making a major impact.


GROUP

Euro 2020 Group A

After taking on group favourites Italy on Roman soil in the tournament's highly-anticipated opening fixture, Turkey will encounter potentially far more manageable games in Baku.

Despite their remarkable run to the final four in France five years ago, Wales are among the outsiders of the entire event, while Switzerland are set to present a tougher task - being ranked 16 places above Turkey - but often lack punch in the final third.

Nonetheless, under Vladimir Petkovic, the Swiss are an experienced and battle-hardened outfit that could provide the Crescent-Stars' greatest obstacle to progressing from the group phase behind the in-form Italians.

FIXTURES

June 11: Turkey vs. Italy (8pm, Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
June 16: Turkey vs. Wales (5pm, Baku Olympic Stadium, Baku)
June 20: Switzerland vs. Turkey (5pm, Baku Olympic Stadium, Baku)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Drawn in Group H of the qualifying stage, along with world champions France, an excellent campaign saw Turkey finish clear of closest rivals for the runners-up spot, Iceland.

In a section also featuring Albania, Moldova and Andorra, vastly experienced coach Senol Gunes began his quiet revolution of the squad, with many exciting young players joining stalwarts such as Burak Yilmaz and Emre Belozoglu in a more resolute but still dynamic side.

Turkey players celebrate qualifying for Euro 2020 in November 2019© Reuters

As a result, the Crescent-Stars enjoyed one of their most successful campaigns of recent times, cruising through to the Euros having taken four points from France and only just missing out on top spot. With new names including Merih Demiral and Kaan Ayhan being drafted in to the back line, it was the Turkish defence that did most of the heavy lifting - conceding just three times and keeping eight clean sheets throughout the process.

After surprisingly beating the French 2-0 in Konya and then holding them to a 1–1 draw at Stade de France, Turkey only narrowly defeated minnows Andorra - courtesy of an 89th-minute winner in Istanbul - but their progress was otherwise fairly serene.

Their only defeat came in already infamous circumstances, against Iceland. Having been detained at Icelandic customs for three hours, a local was forcibly removed after using a toilet brush as a microphone in a bizarre attempted 'interview' with enraged captain Emre.


RECENT FORM

Turkey's Burak Yilmaz celebrates scoring their first goal on June 3, 2021© Reuters

Turkey have proven exceptionally hard to beat in recent months and have lost just three times in their 26 games since Senol Gunes took charge for a second time.

Following their impressive meetings with France, this new-look Turkish side have since gone on to record further eye-catching results, against the Netherlands - a spectacular 4-2 home win - and Norway (3-0), to get their Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign underway.

However, in the 2020–21 Nations League, they could only finish level on points with Serbia at the bottom of their section, with an inferior head-to-head goals record seeing them suffer relegation to depths of League C.

In their three post-season friendlies, though, Turkey have taken advantage of lightweight opposition to keep momentum building: beating both Azerbaijan and Moldova, while drawing 0-0 with Guinea.


SQUAD

Turkey players celebrate after a match on May 27, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Altay Bayindir (Fenerbahce), Mert Gunok (Istanbul Basaksehir), Ugurcan Cakir (Trabzonspor)

Defenders: Zeki Celik (Lille), Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester), Kaan Ayhan (Sassuolo), Merih Demiral (Juventus), Mert Muldur (Sassuolo), Ozan Kabak (Liverpool), Ridvan Yilmaz (Besiktas), Umut Meras (Le Havre)

Midfielders: Yusuf Yazici (Lille), Dorukhan Tokoz (Besiktas), Irfan Kahveci (Fenerbahce), Okay Yokuslu (West Bromwich Albion), Orkun Kokcu (Feyenoord), Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahce), Taylan Antalyali (Galatasaray), Hakan Calhanoglu (Milan), Kerem Akturkoglu (Galatasaray)

Forwards: Burak Yilmaz (Lille), Cengiz Under (Leicester), Enes Unal (Getafe), Efecan Karaca (Alanyaspor), Abdulkadir Omur (Trabzonspor), Halil Dervisoglu (Galatasaray), Kenan Karaman (Fortuna Dusseldorf)


STAR PLAYER - Hakan Calhanoglu

Turkey's Hakan Calhanoglu celebrates scoring their second goal in March 2021© Reuters

Possessing a spectacular range of set-piece deliveries, Hakan Calhanoglu is the standard-bearer and creative fulcrum in Turkey's midfield.

Currently Milan's number ten - though he often prefers to cut in from a station on the left - the Mannheim-born playmaker can be frustratingly inconsistent but possesses a long list of strengths to compensate. An able dribbler, with flawless technique and a rich range of passing, the 27-year-old is also a pinpoint crosser with an ability to strike with power from distance.

Having been raised in Germany, like several of his current international colleagues, Calhanoglu made an early decision to represent the homeland of his family, making his senior debut in 2013 and featuring in the group-stage exit at Euro 2016.

He began his career at Karlsruher in 2010 and later moved to Hamburg, before a transfer to Bayer Leverkusen in 2014. Then, in 2017, he signed for Milan, where he has established himself as an integral part of the Rossoneri's recent revival. It is expected, however, that he will turn down the chance to stay at San Siro after the Euros, with a free move to one of Europe's other superclubs very much on the cards.


MANAGER - Senol Gunes

Turkey manager Senol Gunes pictured on November 15, 2020© Reuters

Still a national hero for his role in the miraculous run to within 90 minutes of the 2002 World Cup Final, Senol Gunes stepped back into the position as guardian of his nation's hopes after more than a decade away. In all, it has been a successful return, as Turkey have improved substantially under the former schoolteacher's wily stewardship.

Hoping to see a second 'golden generation' flourish over the next two years - with the World Cup coming along much sooner than usual after the Euros - Gunes offers a calming presence, with a 51% win rate across a long and distinguished coaching career.

Once a goalkeeper with Trabzonspor, on Turkey's eastern Black Sea coast, the 69-year-old won six titles there during his playing career, making such an impact that the Super Lig club later named their stadium after him.

Also a former recipient of UEFA's Coach of the Year award, who has been in management since 1989, Gunes has played down hopes of replicating former glories this summer, preferring to focus on the task of simply progressing to the knockout stages behind his stated group favourites, Italy.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Semi-finalists (2008)

Turkey's players celebrate after their Euro 2008 quarter-final soccer match penalty shoot-out victory over Croatia at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, June 20, 2008© Reuters

Once minnows on the continental stage - Turkey failed to qualify until 1996 - they have only appeared sporadically at the finals since their debut in England 25 years ago.

Either side of finishing third in the 2002 World Cup, the Crescent-Stars were quarter-finalists in 2000 and spectacularly reached the final four in 2008.

An incredible conclusion to their last group game that year saw them come from two goals down in the final 15 minutes to beat the Czech Republic, before knocking out Croatia on penalties in the last eight: only a late Philip Lahm goal in the semis saw Germany progress to the final at their expense.

Only in France, five years ago, did they next return to the Championships, but back-to-back losses against Croatia and Spain left them in an unenviable position heading into their final group game - again versus the Czechs - which they won 2–0. Minutes away from reaching the last 16, Robbie Brady's late winner for Ireland against Italy meant that Fatih Terim's team failed to make it through as one of the best third-placed nations.


PREDICTION

As their group looks like an open invitation to join hot favourites Italy in the last 16, Turkey should at least achieve that feat, given the rise of such a rich seam of talent in recent years.

Blending youth and experience under a talismanic manager, the Crescent-Stars will boast a trio of Ligue 1 champions from Lille, much-admired defenders such as Merih Demiral of Juventus and Leicester City's rock-solid Caglar Soyuncu, and a number of gifted midfield options.

They are undoubtedly a team capable of springing a surprise, but have a number of relatively fresh-faced players who may suffer stage fright with their nation's hopes on the line.

Nonetheless, Turkey's legendarily passionate fans can be increasingly confident of enjoying a successful summer, with a place in the last eight certainly not out of the question, but a potentially unkind last 16 draw perhaps causing their downfall.

VERDICT: Last 16

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