As this summer’s Euros are still fresh in most people’s memories, it might come as a bit of a shock to learn that the 2022 World Cup is just over 12 months away. A year from now, the Premier League will be preparing to break up for a few months to facilitate the tournament in Qatar. England will be there, and there is hope for Scotland and Wales too.
But what about Turkey? Surely one of the most difficult teams to fathom in international football. A year ago, there were huge hopes for the new generation of players coming through. En route to qualifying for the Euros, the Turks smashed teams like France.
In the World Cup qualifiers in March of this year, four goals were put past the Netherlands to allow Turkey to take control of the group. They were the dark horse tip for the Euros, but somehow the wheels fell off.
Turkey went unbeaten in 2021 until it came to the Euros, where they lost all three games. In the September International Break, they managed to lose 6-1 to the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying – a complete reversal from the hammering the Turks handed out six months earlier.
That caused the Turkish FA to sack coach Senol Gunes. But new coach Stefan Kuntz hasn’t helped Turkey rediscover that sparkling form yet. They now face an uphill battle to qualify for Qatar 2022, although a playoff spot still looks possible should they win their final two games.
Turkey has fleeting relationship with World Cup
Turkey, of course, isn’t considered a footballing mega power. The country has made little impression on international tournaments, with one notable exception – the 2022 World Cup. Hakan Sukur’s strike on 11 seconds – now counted as the fastest goal in World Cup history – set the Turks on the way to secure third place in that tournament.
That was supposed to inspire the nation to a new dawn with a place at international football’s top table. But they have yet to qualify for a World Cup since that tournament in Japan and South Korea.
But, as mentioned, hopes were high for the current generation of Turkish stars. They were the youngest squad at Euro 2020, with an average age of 24 years and 11 months.
So, it’s not quite the disaster it seems for Stefan Kuntz should the team fail in the ambition to qualify for the World Cup. If he gets time to develop this young team, he might be able to make an impression on Euro 2024 (Germany) or World Cup 2026 (USA-Canada-Mexico). But “time” is not always afforded to Turkey coaches, as Gunes discovered in September.
Turkey needs a plan
One of the issues is disjointedness. If you are an England fan, you might get annoyed with Gareth Southgate picking the same team and using the same tactics. Yet, Turkey could do with something resembling a blueprint – 54 different players have been called up to the national team in the last 12 months. With just a few exceptions, like Hakan Calhanoglu and Burak Yilmaz, the names on the teamsheet seem to change each match.
Above all, there is the problem of introducing the young players into the first XI without disrupting the balance.
Players like Yilmaz (36) have been excellent servants, but they hardly represent the future. But perhaps there is some logic in the appointment of Stefan Kuntz. The German has worked with – and been successful with – the Germany U21 and U23 sides.
He has experience in developing players and preparing them for success in the national team. The Turkish FA is often accused of being myopic, but this could be a masterstroke for the long term.
There are dozens of young players for Kuntz to work with, but the fear is that the Turkish FA wields the axe should they not reach Qatar. That would be a mistake. The 2026 World Cup should be the target. The new generation has enough talent to emulate the 2002 Turkish vintage of Hakan Sukur and Yildiray Basturk, but do they have the application?