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Euro 2020: How did Turkey go from dark horses to just plain dark?
As the Crescent-Stars crash out at the first hurdle, we analyse what caused this frustrating failure
Turkey went into the Euros as the thinking man's one-to-watch but will leave as an utter disappointment, having cost many a smart Alec, myself included, any chance of winning their respective work fantasy football league. All the signs were there. They had youth, they were organised, the romantic return of the manager who once led them to former glories. Unfortunately for many a betting tipster or fantasy player looking for value in the market, Turkey have fallen at the first hurdle after a cataclysmically bad campaign, only outdone by four other disasters in the history of the tournament. Three games played, three losses. Eight goals scored, one goal conceded. Zero points. How did a team with such promise deliver so little?
The Coronavirus Delay
Some have blamed the fact that Euro 2020 was delayed for one year due to the coronavirus. Turkey were in red hot form coming out of a Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in which they took four points from World Champions France, conceded only three goals in ten games and kept eight clean sheets. Returning coach Senol Gunes, who led them to a third-place finish at the 2002 World Cup, had revolutionised the squad. A mixture of youth and endeavour combined with experienced heads like Burak Yilmaz really paid off in qualifying and many believe that had the tournament gone ahead as planned last year, the crescent-stars would have taken that momentum with them. This argument doesn't exactly hold water though. Of the six games they played this calendar year before Euro 2020, three World Cup qualifiers and three friendlies, they were unbeaten with four wins and two draws, including wins over the Netherlands and a very fancied Norway side. Momentum didn't seem to be an issue a few weeks ago. Could they have performed better a year ago? Who knows, but it's not like the wheels had been coming off ever since qualifying.
Injury to Cenk Tosun
Best known to Premier League fans for his less than spectacular spell at Everton, which technically is ongoing, Tosun played a big role in qualification for this tournament as their top scorer with 5 goals. In total he's scored a respectable 18 goals in 45 international appearances and thus his loss due to injury could be considered a big blow, especially given the lack of depth Turkey have outside of their starting lineup. After qualification, Everton sent Tosun to Crystal Palace on loan but he injured his ACL after making only five appearances and returned to Merseyside to rehab. It seemed he had luck on his side at the time as the competition was delayed due to Covid-19, news he greeted with a dancing gif on Twitter. After recovery, he got a deadline day move to Besiktas in January and was ready to bang in some goals and get ready for the Euros. Sadly for big Cenk he then got coronavirus and suffered a serious knee injury after scoring three goals in three games for the Turkish club. Had he been fit and firing like he was before, he would have been, at the very least, a good option off the bench to take some pressure off the evergreen Burak Yilmaz of Lille. It wasn't to be and we'll never know if he could have made an impact.
Coach Senol Gunes is at pains to deflect responsibility from his players but after both the Wales and Switzerland losses, he did mention individual mistakes. Tactically they have set up much the same way as they have done since he retook the reins and the man who led them to arguably their greatest ever achievement doesn't deserve the barrage of criticism he is likely to receive back home. He will feel the need to take responsibility while defending himself a little bit. After the Wales defeat he said: "I don’t think we ever got over the shock of the first game. I don’t remember us making so many errors in passing, ever. When you lose the ball so easily, and have such a difficulty in getting it back, no wonder you’ll struggle" Then after Sunday's final blow against the Swiss he reiterated: "I am responsible for this. Players and individual mistakes are also responsible"
Youth and inexperience on the big stage
According to Sportskeeda, Turkey are the second youngest squad at the Euros by average age with 24.6 years, only Spain are younger. In the starting X1 they have a good mix of young, capable athletes and experienced, established internationals. The problem is that when they get into trouble, they don't really have any depth to call upon. As you look to the bench, the inexperience is astounding and that showed over these three games. As Italy, Wales and Switzerland were able to shuffle the pack and bring on experienced players, Turkey didn't have anyone to call on. The aforementioned Cenk Tosun in particular was a big miss for them.
The good news is that this group of players will grow and progress. The likes of Merih Demiral of Juventus and Caglar Soyuncu of Leicester City are only going to get better with age. We can expect the Crescent-Stars to push for a World Cup 2022 spot as they are currently top of their group with seven points from three games. Turkey should learn from this and get stronger. They were so solid at the back coming into the tournament but have left with one of the worst defensive records in group stage history. If they can recapture that strength and organisation, it should make a great platform for the dynamic attacking players coming through further up the pitch. They will need some of the younger fringe players to take it up a level if they are going to do better at their next tournament.
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