Turkey went through qualifying for the European Championship without much difficulty, second in their group behind France. In fact, Senol Gunes’ team won four points from the world champions and stayed very close to the first position. What stood out in the qualifying phase was the defense, which was only scored three times and kept a clean sheet in several games.
The Rising Stars have traditionally been characterized by their passion, their instincts and their somewhat lukewarm attitude when it comes to defending, but after years of very surprising blunders, Turkey has managed to turn their greatest weakness into their greatest strength. They have qualified for the European Championship with what could be said to be their best team since the 2002 World Cup, when they were third (with Gunes). “I want to finish the group first,” said the coach after the draw had paired him in Group A with Italy, Wales and Switzerland.
On defense, Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu is perhaps the best known name, but he is not the only one. There are a lot of options. Juventus’ Merih Demiral is a 1.90m player, a guy who can be seen making celebratory gestures with his fist after a perfectly timed landing tackle.
Right-back Mehmet Zeki Celik has excelled at Lille over the past few seasons, while Ozan Kabak made a good impression on Liverpool during his loan period before getting injured. Also, there are several options like Mert Muldur, Ridvan Yilmaz and Kaan Ayhan in a very young defense. In fact, Soyuncu is the most experienced of the likely headlines and is only 24 years old. The only weakness could be the left wing, where Gunes doesn’t have much depth, but Umut Meras and Yilmaz, who is 20, could make a name for themselves this summer.
Most of these players play abroad, and Gunes wants that trend to continue: “We have about 15 players in Europe, but Brazil has between 6,000 and 7,000, and Serbia has 700. We have to produce more talent.”
Okay Yokuslu, who was on loan from Celta Vigo last season at West Brom, is the forgotten hero as a defensive midfielder with back and forth midfielder Ozan Tufan, a pocket dynamo, by his side. Yusuf Yazici, who has had a brilliant season at Lille, will be in charge of bringing talent to the front, but will have to compete with Milan’s Hakan Calhanoglu, Kenan Karaman and Cengiz Under.
In attack, Burak Yilmaz has aged like fine wine. The fit scorer has not stopped scoring goals for Lille this season. “Burak continues to learn every day. He is a great example for the younger players, ”says Gunes. It will be difficult to defeat Turkey, and they are very strong at the top. They can be the covered ones.
Who else? As the Red Wall sings, “Long live Gareth Bale!” The captain, with his ponytail, is the favorite of Welsh football, and although the national team is not a one-man team as is often said, Bale’s influence runs deep. He only scored two goals in qualifying, but he has shown flashes of brilliance at his club and in his national team of late, combining beautifully with Harry Wilson to take the lead against Belgium in March and scoring a hat-trick for Tottenham. He was immortalized on a mural in North Cardiff after Wales qualified for Euro 2016, surpassed Ian Rush’s 28 goals to become Wales’ all-time top scorer in 2018 and has been named Welsh Footballer of the Year six times, which is quite a record.
All information about Hakan Çalhanoglu
Senol Gunes became a hero in 2002 when he led Turkey to third place in the World Cup. That team is remembered as the golden generation, but it seems that Gunes could have created something just as exciting this time. The coach was actually a teacher before entering the world of football and used to teach at a school in a village high on a mountain in Trabzon, on the eastern Black Sea coast of Turkey. “I still consider myself a teacher, and nothing makes me feel prouder than seeing that the players are successful,” he says.
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