Boasting the best defensive record in qualification, offering an unprecedented number of players operating at the highest level in Europe and led by the man who took them to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, there is cautious optimism that Turkey can be one of the big surprises in Euro 2020.
The Crescent Stars are faced with a tough group this summer, pitting them against Italy, Wales and Switzerland, but under the guidance of national legend Senol Günes, matches against stronger opposition have arguably been Turkey’s forte.
We continue our series of Euro 2020 articles by examining their players in detail to see if any can compete for a place in your Fantasy squads.
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
With Euro 2016 their only major international tournament since a last-four appearance at Euro 2008, a Euro 2020 qualification group containing world champions France, and two improving footballing nations in Iceland and Albania, was a daunting prospect for Turkey.
However, their emerging defence-first Golden Generation turned heads around Europe as they finished as Group H runners up with one game to spare and took four points off Didier Deschamps’ reigning World Cup winners.
While there is an array of high-level talent available for Turkey right now, the role of Günes as manager should not be underestimated. With a track record for tournament success, he has already made a mockery of football’s fabled “never go back” rule.
Before returning to the national team in 2019, it was Günes who guided Turkey on their historic journey to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals in Japan and South Korea. In 2017/18, when he was at the Besiktas helm, he became the first manager to win a Champions League group with a Super Lig side.
The 68-year-old has historically been famed for attacking football but ended up creating the best defensive outfit in the whole of Euro 2020 qualification. Turkey conceded just three goals across their 10 matches, the fewest of any other nation, while their total of eight clean sheets was also the best across the continent.
Their defensive strength was widely viewed as the key factor in beating a star-studded France side that contained Kylian Mbappé (€12.0m) and Antoine Griezmann (€11.0m) by a combined three goals to one across two qualification matches.
But Günes is also well-known for his tactical mind, which often sees Turkey chop and change their tactics depending on the opposition. As a result, no one formation was a clear favourite during qualification. They went with 4-3-3 on three occasions, a more compact 4-1-4-1 was the chosen shape for both meetings with France and a 1-0 win over Andorra, 4-2-3-1 featured twice while 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 were used once each, the latter coming in a rotation-heavy dead-rubber against Andorra after qualification was secured.
Since then, Günes has spent the last 18 months experimenting with tactics and personnel, which has undermined the defensive rhythm to some extent. After letting in just three goals during qualifying, Turkey have conceded 19 times across their last 11 matches, winning just once in a Nations League pool of Hungary, Serbia and Russia. During those six matches, Juventus’ defender Merih Demiral (€5.0m), who made the team of Euro 2020 qualifying, did make five starts but found himself paired with no fewer than four different centre-back partners in Ozan Kabak (€4.5m), Çaglar Söyüncü (€5.0m), Kaan Ayhan (€5.0m) and Mahmut Tekdemir.
Despite suffering an ignominious relegation from Group B, a propensity to cause problems for the bigger teams has remained constant. Interspersed among Turkey’s Nations League defeats to Hungary were 3-3 draws with Germany and Croatia while their first three World Cup qualifiers have already yielded seven points from wins over the Netherlands (4-2) and Norway (3-0) as well as a 3-3 draw with Latvia.
Do those positive recent results indicate the Nations League blip was a result of experimentation and not taking the tournament too seriously? Crescent Star fans will hope so.
Either way, the view from Turkey is that the pandemic struck at just the right time. Before coronavirus (COVID-19) delayed Euro 2020 by a year, Günes’ men were heading into the tournament without either of their best two centre-backs in Demiral and Kabak because of injuries. Since then, each has recovered and enjoyed decent form for Juventus and Liverpool respectively. The latter is currently sidelined with a recent muscle problem that ruled him out of the club season but that should damage Turkey in strength and depth only; their best centre-back partnership is Demiral and Söyüncü, a fan favourite and one of the Crescent Stars most consistent performers since his 2016 debut.
EURO 2020 QUALIFYING STATS
- Most starts: Merih Demiral (10), Mert Günok (9), Zeki Celik (8), Kaan Ayhan, Hakan Çalhanoglu, Burak Yilmaz (7)
- Most goals: Cenk Tosun (5), Kaan Ayhan (3), Enes Ünal (2)
- Most assists: Hakan Çalhanoglu, Dorukhan Toköz, Cenk Tosun, Deniz Türüç (all 2)
- Goals scored: 18
- Goals conceded: 3
- Clean sheets: 8
THE KEY TARGETS
In light of how impressive they were at the back during qualification, Turkey could be one of the best sources of €4.5m defenders for Euro 2020 Fantasy managers. If the Crescent Stars can rediscover their qualification form, then there are opportunities for clean sheets in Group A.
Some domestic critics believe Italy do not score as many goals as they could and are the sort of ‘bigger side’ Turkey are used to frustrating, while Wales mustered just 10 goals in qualification and some have accused Switzerland’s best players of not bringing their best form to the national team.
After a combined 37 league appearances this season, €5.0m centre-backs Söyüncü and Demiral are the most nailed-on starters for the Crescent Stars but bargain-hunters can find a cheaper route into Turkey’s defence by studying the goalkeeper and right-back departments.
Zeki Çelik (€4.5m) made eight starts on the right-hand side of defence during qualification and looks to still have that position sewn up as his own. He featured in three of a possible six Nations League matches and started the recent win over the Netherlands. The only reason he missed the following two World Cup qualifiers against Norway and Latvia was because he contracted COVID-19.
Even though he did not provide any assists during qualification, the 24-year-old is known for a healthy balance between defence and attack in this modern full-back age. In 27 Ligue 1 appearances for Lille this season, Çelik has three goals and two assists.
Mert Günok (€4.5m) was previously a nailed-on option between the sticks but has recently lost his place to Ugurcan Çakir (€4.5m). He started nine of a possible 10 Euro 2020 qualifiers and featured in five of the six Nations League outings. However, it was the three recent World Cup qualifiers that saw Çakir take over. He started each of those, while Günok warmed the bench.
THE LONG SHOTS
For anyone interested in the defence, Turkey’s left-back berth is somewhat less settled than Çelik’s spot on the right-hand side. Umut Meras (€4.5m) started five of a possible 10 Euro 2020 qualification matches, two of a possible six Nations League outings and featured in two of the three recent World Cup qualifiers.
Hasan Ali Kaldirim (€4.5m) and Caner Erkin (€5.0m) are both in competition for Meras on the left-hand side, the former starting four Euro 2020 qualifiers and two Nations League matches while the latter is a more recent addition to the equation. He did not start any qualifiers on the left while playing there for two Nations League outings and one World Cup qualification match.
Turkey’s attacking credentials were not as pronounced as their defensive resoluteness during qualifying and it is worth pointing out they arrive at Euro 2020 without Cenk Tosun, their top-goalscorer from that stage of the competition, whose latest knee injury will keep him on the sidelines until November.
Still, versatile attacking midfielder Hakan Çalhanoglu (€8.5m), capable of playing number 10 or as a Grealish-esque left-winger, showed some promising form during the most recent World Cup qualifiers.
Across the three matches, the goal-scoring set-piece-taker produced two goals and three assists. Çalhanoglu has enjoyed a solid fourth season for AC Milan over the last year too, contributing four goals and nine assists. Still, the fact that he managed just one goal and two assists during seven Euro 2020 qualification matches might be enough for Fantasy managers to worry about his €8.5m price tag.
Burak Yilmaz (€8.0m) is another player whose recent international form has been lukewarm to an extent but has shown enough promise to suggest a strong Euro 2020 showing is not out of the question.
He netted a hat-trick in that famous win over the Netherlands, finishing the recent batch of World Cup qualifiers with four goals and capping off a strong Ligue 1 season at Lille with 15 goals and 5 assists in 27 appearances. Still, at 35 there are question marks over whether he can start every Group Stage game and during Euro 2020 qualification, Yilmaz managed just one goal and one assist in seven starts.
Meanwhile, Cengiz Ünder (€7.0m) is regarded as a key player for Turkey. While he has not quite hit his straps for club or country since a 2020/21 loan move to Leicester, his role on the right-wing could give him the platform to star this summer, although do remember he is listed as a forward in Euro 2020 Fantasy. By contrast, Yusuf Yazici (€5.5m) has had a fantastic season with Lille (seven goals, four assists) but is yet to carry his club form to international level, perhaps why UEFA have awarded him a value price.
FANTEAM PRICE CORNER
All of Turkey’s assets clock in at €5.5m or under in FanTeam’s Euro2020 game, so there are some potential bargains to be had.
Forward Yilmaz could be a snip at €4.5m, while Celik is the joint-cheapest defender in the game at €4.0m.
Goalkeeper Cakir is also available for €4.5m.