Turkey EURO 2020: Dark Horses?
Onurcan Arslan and Zakariah Gassasse
In early 2019, the Turkish national team were void of unity and spirit. Their timid and lifeless performances in the Nations League saw the ‘Kirmizi Beyazlar’ lose three out of their five nations league games resulting in relegation to the third tier of the competition. With then manager Mircea Lucescu’s dismissal, many Turkish fans were left wondering where the future of their national team lay.
Turkey have since appointed Şenol Güneş for a second stint, following a successful first tenure wherein Turkey achieved a third-place finish in the 2002 World Cup. He has successfully navigated Turkey into the Euro 2020 tournament, finishing second to only France while overcoming difficult opponents, such as Albania and Iceland.
The question remains: how has a stark turnaround been achieved in such a small period of time? The answer can be directly attributed to the tactical development and change in direction. While the former is noticeable from afar, the latter requires greater attention when discussing Turkey’s impressive renaissance going into Euro 2020. It is no coincidence that the likes of Arda Turan and Caner Erkin, often the centre of controversy and disharmony, have been ushered out of the national team set up. The focus shifted to nurturing the younger generation, who were hungry for success and proud to represent their national team. Despite Turkey heading into Euro 2020 with the youngest average age (24.6 years) – compared with the oldest team, Belgium (29.2 years) – their recent upturn in performances have been marked by maturity, discipline and exuberance.
Riding this wave of optimism and momentum, the Turkish fans are clamouring for a successful campaign. Although Turkey are yet to be a perennial fixture in tournaments – only qualifying for three in the last two decades – when they do, they are in there for the long-haul. A core contingent of players have played for newly crowned Ligue 1 champions, Lille, and FA Cup winners Leicester City this season where they have subverted the footballing hegemony, something Turkey will be looking to replicate at Euro 2020. Şenol Güneş has dreamt of bettering their third-place finish in Euro 2008, even as far as lifting the cup this summer.
Turkey finished their Euro 2020 qualification campaign with the best defence of any team in Europe, conceding only three goals in 10 matches. Most impressively, Turkey did not concede a goal in open play throughout their entire qualification campaign despite being in a group containing France. Güneş will continue with this cautious and disciplined approach that has proved very successful thus far.
The setup usually consists of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, where the midfield and defensive lines remain tight and compact on the edge of their box. The aim is to starve the opposition of any space between the lines, which is ideal against bigger sides such as Italy. Once the ball is retrieved, it is worked quickly up to Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Burak Yılmaz who will aim to exploit spaces left in behind by the opposition. Willing to cede possession to their opposition, Turkey will make themselves difficult to break down, capitalising from counterattacks and set pieces.
Çağlar Söyüncü & Merih Demiral
Set pieces will be a major component of Turkey’s attacking threat. In the Euro 2020 qualifiers, 8 of their 18 goals originated from either corners or free kicks. Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s dead ball specialities will therefore be vital to Turkey’s ambitions if they are to progress further. Despite having a difficult start to his AC Milan career, he has played an important role in bringing the Rossoneri back to the upper echelons of European football after a seven-year absence contributing 4 goals and 9 assists. His ability to connect the defence and the attack with his varied range of passing will pick out attackers in space behind the opposition’s defence and sustain counter attacks.
Burak Yılmaz’s performance this season has belied his age. His 16 goals in 27 appearances – the first player to score at least 15 goals in his first Ligue 1 season – inspired Lille to their first title win in a decade. To outsiders this may seem like a flash in the pan, but Burak Yılmaz has been a prolific striker throughout his career at Galatasaray, Besiktas and Trabzonspor. If Burak Yılmaz can translate his talismanic performances to the international stage, it will not be an ‘Indian summer’ but a ‘Turkish summer’.