Thursday, June 30

The Euro 2020 team guide, part 3: Turkey | Football

This article is part of The Guardian’s Euro 2020 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries that rated. is running trailers from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament start on June 11.

Turkey passed the Euro 2020 qualifiers and finished second in their group behind France. In fact, Senol Gunes’ team took four points away from the world champions and barely ran out of first place. It was the defense that stood out in the standings, conceding just three goals and keeping eight clean sheets.

Crescent Stars have traditionally been all about passion, style and a lukewarm attitude towards defense, but after years of glaring mistakes, Turkey has managed to turn their greatest weakness into their greatest strength. They enter the Eurocup with possibly their best team since the 2002 World Cup, when they finished third (under Gunes). “I want to finish the group first,” he said after the draw pitted his team in Group A against Italy, Wales and Switzerland.

On defense, Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu is perhaps the best known name, but it is only the beginning. There are many options. Juventus’ Merih Demiral is a rugged 6’2 ”mountain man, the type you’ll see punching after a perfectly timed sliding tackle.

Right-back Mehmet Zeki Celik has been brilliant in Lille for the past few seasons, while Ozan Kabak made a good impression when he was on loan at Liverpool before getting injured. Then there are options in Mert Muldur, Ridvan Yilmaz and Kaan Ayhan in what is a very young defense. Soyuncu, in fact, is the most experienced of the likely starters at 25. The only weakness might be on the left back, where Gunes lacks strength in depth, but Umut Meras and Yilmaz, who is 20, could make a name for themselves. . themselves this summer.

Most of these players reside abroad and Gunes wants that trend to continue, saying: “We have around 15 players in Europe, but Brazil has between 6,000 and 7,000, Serbia has 700 and we need to produce more talent.”

Okay Yokuslu, who spent last season on loan to West Brom from Celta Vigo, is the forgotten hero in defensive midfield with box-to-box dynamo Ozan Tufan by his side. Yusuf Yazici had a brilliant season in Lille and will be tasked with providing offensive flair, but he faces competition from Milan’s Hakan Calhanoglu, as well as Kenan Karaman and Cengiz Under.

In attack, Burak Yilmaz has aged like a good wine. The fit forward couldn’t stop scoring for Lille this season. “Burak is still learning every day, he is a great example for the younger players,” says Gunes. Turkey is going to be difficult to break down and take a big hit in the future. They are potential dark horses.


Senol Gunes consolidated his hero status in 2002, when he led Turkey to third place in the World Cup. That side is remembered as the golden generation, but it seems that Gunes may have created something equally exciting this time. Gunes graduated as a teacher before entering the world of football and used to work at a school in a mountaintop village in Trabzon, on Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast. “I still see myself as a teacher, nothing makes me more proud than seeing the players succeed,” he said.

Senol Gunes is already a hero in Turkey after guiding the team to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals.
Senol Gunes is already a hero in Turkey after guiding the team to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals. Photograph: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images


Caglar Soyuncu pretty much sums up this new team from Turkey with the Leicester defender the rock at the heart of the four behind. The chiseled-jawed center-back hails from humble origins and bypassed the top Turkish level to move on to the Bundesliga and then the Premier League. His popularity in Turkey is based on his being a well-known player in the most popular league in the world. Hardworking, professional and humble, he is rarely the center of media attention and doesn’t care much about social media. Ironically, it has made it even more popular in Turkey. He has done advertisements for Rexona, which is the same brand as Sure in the UK, but is by no means ubiquitous in his home country.

Thankful for the delay of a year

The postponement was a blessing in disguise for Turkey because Merih Demiral, Yusuf Yazici and Ozan Kabak had been ruled out of last summer’s tournament due to injury. The all-star trio have bounced back and enjoyed impressive seasons with their clubs, although Kabak has been re-injured of late. The team is undoubtedly much stronger than it would have been 12 months ago.

Probable alignment

Turkey's likely lineup
Turkey’s likely lineup

What the fans sing

Turkish pop star Tarkan is responsible for the song that most connects with the Turkish national team: “Bir Oluruz Yolunda”, which basically translates to “On our way to unite”. Tarkan may enter the competition this year as another musical heavyweight, Mustafa Sandal, is releasing a song for the team ahead of the Euros.

What fans say

It doesn’t end until we say it’s over! It’s not over until we say it’s over (a reference to Turkey’s story of comebacks against all odds).

meat army A wall of meat (the Turkish equivalent of parking the bus).

It was a state in his castle! He became a giant in goal (Reserved for goalkeepers who are doing a good game).

Pandemic hero / villain

Ozan Tufan held Zoom meetings with students at a school in Hatay, on the Turkish-Syrian border. He also invited one of the boys who wanted to be a footballer to train with him at Fenerbahce when the pandemic ended and donated 1,907 books for a new library.

Emre Sarigul writes for

Follow him on Twitter @ Turkish_Football1.

For a profile of Caglar Soyuncu, click here.

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