Turkey are back at the European Championship finals for the fifth time this summer, having only missed Euro 2004 and Euro 2012 since they first qualified for the tournament back in 1996.
Turkey have blown hot and cold at the Euros in the past. They lost all three games in 1996 and were also knocked out at the group stage in 2016, but they reached the quarter-finals in 2000 and unexpectedly went all the way to the last four in 2008.
This time around, they are tasked with navigating a potentially tough group against Italy, Switzerland and Wales. But up to three places in the knockout stages are on offer and they are a well drilled team who hit the right notes for tournament football.
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Turkey secured their place at Euro 2020 with a game to spare in the qualifying campaign, taking the second automatic place in Group H behind France.
A 0-0 draw with Iceland in Istanbul on matchday nine did the job for the Turks, ensuring that Iceland couldn’t catch them in the final round of fixtures, whatever the results.
Turkey were only beaten once in their 10 qualifying games, losing to Iceland in Reykjavik on matchday four, and finished just two points behind France in the end. They were unbeaten home and away against the reigning world champions, winning 2-0 on home soil in Konya early on in the campaign and later securing an invaluable draw in Paris.
Those results against France were crucial for Turkey’s qualification, as were comfortable home and away wins over Moldova, Andorra and Albania to get points on the board and avoid slip ups.
Defensive strength was an important factor for Turkey in qualifying. They conceded just three goals across their 10 games, including a clean sheet against a high powered France attack. There was no meaner defence in the whole of Europe and only Belgium could match them for so few conceded.
Caglar Soyuncu and Merih Demiral of Leicester and Juventus respectively are expected to be the starting centre-backs. Soyuncu had another strong season in the Premier League, while Demiral can be grateful that the tournament was delayed from last year as he would have missed it because of an ACL injury that he has since recovered from.
Although they weren’t especially prolific in qualifying – 18 goals in 10 games – Turkey have since started to find the net more often. They hit three against Germany in October 2020, three against Croatia and Russia the following month, and four against Netherlands in March 2021.
With Hakan Calhanoglu in the team, set pieces also pose a potential threat to opponents.
A lack of depth and/or experience could become a problem for Turkey.
Only seven of the 26 players in the final squad have more than 30 senior international caps, while only two players have 10 or more international goals. Should one or more of their established starters pick up an injury they may have a problem suitably plugging any gaps.
Captain and chief goalscorer Burak Yilmaz will turn 36 soon after Euro 2020 finishes, but the Lille striker is in hot form. He scored 16 goals in Ligue 1 this season to help Lille topple Paris Saint-Germain and claim only a first French title in 10 years, including seven in the final seven games to help get his team over the line. His final tally might even have been higher than that without a nine-game injury layoff in the early spring.
Yilmaz actually only scored once in Euro 2020 qualifying, although he has netted five in his last four international since March of this year – that includes a hat-trick against Netherlands.
Versatile attacking midfielder/winger Yusuf Yazici is another Turk who played an important role in Lille’s title success. He only started 10 league games but still appeared in as many as 32 and scored seven times as a crucial squad player. That lack of overall minutes should ensure he is fresh, yet being involved so often will also have kept him match fit and sharp.
Ugurcan Cakir is impressive between the sticks. The Trabzonspor goalkeeper has only taken over as starter in 2021, with his only appearance in qualifying coming when Turkey’s place at the tournament was already assured. But his performances at club level have pushed him into the role and garnered attention from abroad. Strong displays here could land him a big transfer.
Goalkeepers: Mert Gunok (Istanbul Basaksehir), Ugurcan Cakir (Trabzonspor), Altay Bayindir (Fenerbahce)
Defenders: Kaan Ayhan (Sassuolo), Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester), Zeki Celik (Lille), Merih Demiral (Juventus), Umut Meras (Le Havre), Ozan Kabak (Liverpool), Mert Muldur (Sassuolo), Ridvan Yilmaz (Besiktas)
Midfielders: Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahce), Hakan Calhanoglu (AC Milan), Okay Yokuslu (West Brom), Yusuf Yazici (Lille), Cengiz Under (Leicester), Irfan Kahveci (Fenerbahce), Dorukhan Tokoz (Besiktas), Abdulkadir Omur (Trabzonspor), Taylan Antalyali (Galatasaray), Orkun Kokcu (Feyenoord), Kerem Akturkoglu (Galatasaray)
Forwards: Buruk Yilmaz (Lille), Kenan Karaman (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Enes Unal (Getafe), Halil Dervisoglu (Galatasaray)
Turkey have done well on the international stage in the past by flying under the radar – think back to their third place finish at the 2002 World Cup or the aforementioned semi-final appearance at Euro 2008.
There is no doubt that they are well coached and can be very defensively strong, which has the potential to provide a solid foundation for a run deep into the tournament. Things will need to fall into place and any injuries to key players could be catastrophic, but a second place finish in Group A behind Italy, which can be a reasonable assumption, offers a favourable knockout draw that could see them face Denmark or Russia in the last 16 and then Netherlands in the quarters.
In that scenario, a semi-final is not beyond them, making Turkey a potential surprise package.
Last 16 or quarter-finals would be a more reasonable prediction, but don’t be shocked if it is more.