Turkey faced Kosovo for the first time at international level in what was the first ever FIFA qualification game at the Antalya Arena stadium on Saturday.
The Crescent Stars headed into the clash having yet to win a single game game in Group I.
Turkish national team boss Fatih Terim decided to shake up his squad ahead of the game making a number of changes including bringing back Barcelona star Arda Turan and former Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz for the first time since the start of the qualification campaign.
Speaking with the Turkish squad who were staying at the Regnum Carya hotel in Antalya it was clear that the team were in a relaxed mood and in high spirits. Turan was on hand to raise team moral and entertained the team as well as his guests in the build up to the game. The Barcelona star told us he was pleased to be back in the team and that the team were confident of their chances going forward in the group.
Terim had his hand forced in defence after first-choice defender Omer Toprak picked up an injury but Mehmet Topal and Genclerbirligi centre-back Omer Toprak were available as replacements and both got to start. Hasan Ali Kaldirim and Gokhan Gonul filled in as full-backs.
Turan got the nod to start on the wing with Volkan Sen on the other flank and Yilmaz upfront.
We got to the stadium around 40 minutes before kick-off and there was already a deafening wall of noise before we even passed through the entrance.
— Turkish Football (@Turkish_Futbol1) November 12, 2016
The Antalya Arena is one of the only solar powered stadiums in world football and looks like a spacecraft that landed in the city. The stadium may be ultra modern but the atmosphere had traditional Turkish passion and the raucous supporters were already in full swing long before the game started.
Turkey went into the games as heavy favorites but Kosovo were well disciplined and made things difficult for the home side. The away side played a defensive game and created a few scares for the Crescent Stars on the break. In fact Kosovo created the best chance in the first half when they hit the post just before the interval.
Terim swapped Ozyakup for Yunus Malli at half time. To be fair the former Arsenal man put on a sub-par display far below what he is capable of. The Crescent-Stars were much improved in the second half and it was not long before Yilmaz rewarded Terim with the opening goal. Sen scored soon after to wrap up would ended up being a pretty comfortable victory.
Turkey got the job done but it was not an impressive display by any stretch of the imagination. Terim called back a few members of the old guard but also selected a few young guns in Manchester City striker Enes Unal, Caglar Soyuncu and Bilal Basacikoglu but only Cengiz Under got to play. Unal was actually sitting in the box next to us and it was a shame not to see him get some playing time considering the form he has been for FC Twente who is joined on loan this summer.
Turkey increased their points tally to five points closing the gap with the leading pack in the group and are very much back in the running for qualification as a result of the victory but Terim still has a lot of work to do in finding his strongest side and striking the right balance between youth and experience.