Pride, passion and fascinating stories from Asia Minor
Guus Hiddink faces one of the biggest challenges of his illustrious career this week as his Turkey side face Croatia in the Euro 2012 play-offs.
Well aware that his future as boss could hinge on the outcome of the tie, Hiddink will no doubt be concerned with the poor form of many of his big name players.
So many times the lynchpin of the national side, former Newcastle United man Emre Belozoglu’s performances for Fenerbahce have ranged from poor to seemingly non-existent this season. Gokhan Gonul, Egemen Korkmaz and Arda Turan all endured miserable weekends with their club sides weekend.
However, in striker Burak Yilmaz Hiddink has one of Europe’s most in-form frontmen. It was Burak’s winning goal against Azerbaijan that secured Turkey’s spot in the play-offs and the Trabzonspor talisman already has 13 goals in 10 games this campaign.
We’ve got previous
His side should need absolutely no motivation whatsoever.
A video re-run of the Euro 2008 quarter-final thriller between these two teams would still set the pulses racing in even the quietest of dressing rooms.Croatia had seemingly stolen the tie when striker Ivan Klasnic - now of Bolton - scored in the last minute of extra time.
However, when Semih Senturk scored with the last kick of the game, Turkey took the momentum into the penalty shoot-out to secure a semi-final spot against Germany.
Back then, Slaven Bilic’s side were one of the brightest prospects in European football, with many even touting them as potential winners of the tournament.Nearly four years on and not too much has changed.
A well-organised side boasting the talents of Spurs playmaker Luka Modric, a resurgent Eduardo and Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic should have qualified automatically.
That they failed to do so will give the Turks some hope. Croatia performed erratically in qualification and find themselves in the play-offs following defeats by group winners Greece, and more worryingly, Georgia.
Nonetheless Bilic is confident, if not adamant, that his players have the perfect incentive to make it to Poland and the Ukraine next summer, stating: “They have been waiting and dreaming about getting revenge.
“We all remember how we lost that quarter-final. Yes, Turkey are strong opponents, but we are stronger. It won't be easy.”
You win some, you lose some
Turkey’s play-off record is not one that will have supporters overly confident of victory. They triumphed against the Republic of Ireland to qualify for Euro 2000 and then against Austria for the 2002 World Cup, but their most recent play-off attempts have seen disappointing defeats by Latvia (Euro 2004) and Switzerland (2006 World Cup) respectively.
Hiddink and his staff will be keenly aware of ‘the Crescent Stars’ recent poor record in play-offs and will be looking for a positive start when they hosts the Croatians in the first leg on Friday evening. A sell-out crowd is expected at the Turk Telekom Arena and the Dutchman will hope the passionate home crowd can be his side’s ‘12th man’.
While their defensive frailties were exposed heavily against Germany earlier in the qualifying campaign (the Germans running out 3-0 winners at home and 3-1 in Turkey), the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss will know that if his side can repeat the heroics of 2008 then a summer in Poland and Ukraine awaits.
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