Turkey return to the European Championships after an eight year wait with a clash against old rivals Croatia.
Croatia and Turkey have a pretty eventful footballing history.
The Turks knocked Croatia out of the Euro 2008 quarter-finals in one of the most dramatic games in the competitions history.
Croatia took the lead in the last minute of extra time. The game looked over. Turkey were 1-0 behind in the 119th minute but just a minute later Semih Sentry equalised and the Crescent-Stars went onto win on penalties.
Four years later Croatia got revenge and eliminated Turkey from the Euro 2012 playoffs.
This time around Turkey head into Euro 2016 with arguably their strongest side ever. The bulk of talent is however, in midfield.
Fatih Terim who guided Turkey to their Euro 2008 triumph is back in charge and spoilt for choice in midfield with the likes of Arda Turan, Hakan Calhanoglu, Yunus Malli, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Nuri Sahin and 18-year-old wonderkid Emre Mor – who was recently snapped up by Borussia Dortmund.
Terim is likely to use a 4-2-3-1 setup against Croatia with Galatasaray captain Selcuk Inan and Fenerbahce starlet Ozan Tufan as his holding midfielders. Inan plays from deep while Tufan goes box-to-box adding dynamism and an assiduous work ethic to the team.
Calhanoglu and Turan are almost guaranteed a place while Besiktas star Ozyakup is also likely to play. If Terim does opt to give all three the nod it could however, leave Turkey lacking pace as they are not exactly the fastest players. It would however, enable the Turks to play a possession based game with a gifted, technical midfield. Terim also has the option to play Burak Yilmaz upfront to give his side an injection of pace while full-backs Caner Erkin and Gokhan Gonul are bound to bomb forwards.
Terim could however, spring a surprise and use Mor who has excelled in recent friendlies. The Dortmund star has explosive acceleration and brilliant dribbling ability. Another – but unlikely option – is for Terim to play a false number nine which could see Malli, Calhanoglu or Mor play upfront.
In defence Bayer Leverkusen defender Omer Toprak has been left out of the squad – one suspects it has something to do with the ‘hotel incident’ – and Serdar Aziz is out injured.
Fenerbahce defensive Mehmet Topal will start at a centre-back alongside experienced Galatasaray defender Hakan Balta. The ‘Spider’ as Topal is also known is no stranger to playing in the back four and can play the ball out of defence.
The mantra of Terim’s side is to keep possession and play attacking based football. It will be interesting to see how Turkey fare against a Croatia side with a similar ethos. The Croatia midfield oozes talent with the likes of Rakitic and Modric who are just as capable of keeping hold of the ball.
Turkey may be the bookmakers underdogs but do they really deserve that title? The Crescent-Stars have lost just one of their last 16 games and started to gel at the right moment. This is pound for pound arguably the strongest Turkish side to ever turn out at a major international tournament. The last two times Turkey have featured in a World Cup or Euro’s they have reached the semi-final stages. Terim thrives on being the underdog and has already built a siege mentality among his players.
If you have not been watching Turkey over the past year you may be in for a surprise but for these who follow the team closely it really would not be that huge an upset for this side to pull off a good result against Croatia.
Turkey expected line-up: Babacan; Caner, Gokhan, Hakan Balta, Mehmet Topal; Inan, Tufan; Calhanoglu, Ozyakup, Turan; Burak Yilmaz
Prediction: Turkey Draw No Bet @2.50