Euro 2016 Spotlight:Turkey

Turkey is one of the benefactors of the European Championships’ expansion, having made it to France courtesy of their position as the best third-place finisher in qualifying. It marks their return to tournament action for the first time since Euro 2008, when they managed to reach the semifinals before being beaten by eventual runners-up Germany. With much having changed since, they’ll just be hoping to turn in a respectable performance in France.

The last few years have been rather turbulent for the Turkish national team, though incumbent coach Fatih Terim — a man known as The Emperor — has shown impressive determination to lead them to yet another major competition. He did so for the first time in 1996, and after stepping away from the job for a second time in 2009, he returned four years later with the task of building Turkish soccer from the ground up once again. Though his third stint got off to a slow start, they’re now looking like a competitive force.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their recent resurgence has been the way Terim managed to piece together a squad riven by tension. They reached a head a couple of years ago, when highly rated Beşiktaş winger Gökhan Töre reportedly entered a hotel room and pulled a gun on two of the national team’s German-born contingent (Ömer Toprak and Hakan Çalhanoğlu) amid rumors of an affair between the latter and Töre’s girlfriend. The incident was hushed and Töre temporarily disappeared from the national team setup, only to reappear a while later. Çalhanoğlu also reappeared, though Toprak has refused to play for the national team since.

A two-match suspension he sustained courtesy of a sending off in their final qualifying match means Töre hasn’t been included in Terim’s final squad; that he otherwise would have been involved seems testament to the way in which the coach has guided his team through an extremely tricky patch. In the aftermath of the incident Turkey went on an exceptional seven-game unbeaten streak in Euro 2016 qualification, and won all but two of those matches. They bounced back from a disastrous start in which they picked up just one point from matches against Iceland, the Czech Republic and Latvia, and Turkey’s pre-tournament friendly against England late last month was their first defeat in over a year.

They’ll arrive in France with a talented set of players, and a blend of youth and experience that suggests hope for the present as well as promise for the future. Though they’ll sure to be banking on good performances from Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan, who is rapidly approaching a century of appearances for his national team, the bulk of their team are still early in their careers.

The aforementioned Çalhanoğlu is perhaps the most exciting of the bunch. Having been touted as one of soccer's next superstars a couple of seasons ago, the 22-year-old Bayer Leverkusen playmaker appears to have lost a little momentum of late. But good performances in major tournaments often seem to indicate a coming-of-age, at least in the eyes of onlooking scouts. And with Çalhanoğlu more than accustomed to the rigors of top level soccer, his brilliant set pieces and cutting passes could well catch the eye in L'Hexagone.

Where Çalhanoğlu ends up playing — with Terim having the choice of playing him in his natural role behind the striker, or as a false nine — will dictate whether veteran striker Burak Yılmaz is given the nod up top. The 30-year-old Beijing Guoan forward has suffered with a string of injury problems, and it could well be that a more creative selection up front will squeeze the best from his compatriots. An eye will certainly have to be kept on former Arsenal midfielder Oğuzhan Özyakup, who has excelled since moving to Beşiktaş, while 18-year-old wunderkind Emre Mor is in line for his first competitive appearance in France.

It’s true to say that their defense poses a little more of a problem, and they’re certainly not helped by Toprak’s absence. But for the neutral, that should only guarantee that Turkey are one of the more watchable sides in France this summer. They may well have ridden their luck to qualify, but there’s no doubting they have a fine array of attacking talents, and the capability to cause an upset or two. They’ve made a tradition of performing at their best with their backs to the wall, and it’ll be fascinating to see if they can manage it again.

Schedule & Results

Sunday, Jun. 12
Friday, Jun. 17
Tuesday, Jun. 21