Time was when a competitive fixture against Turkey could be regarded if not as a
Time was when a competitive fixture against Turkey could be regarded if not as a push-over, then almost certainly maximum points.
After all, twice in the last generation, England have beaten the Turks 8-0, a nation once thought of as one of the whipping boys of European football. Not any more.
Turkey's performance at last year's World Cup, only their second ever appearance in the finals and their first for 48 years, not only confounded the critics given their previously unheralded pedigree but put them on the map as one of the most technically gifted nations in Europe.
The sceptics may say they had a relatively easy draw en route to the semi-finals and were handed a giant lifeline by Brazil's five-goal demolition of Costa Rica. But no-one who witnessed their adventurous attitude and movement off the ball could argue that the Turks were prime examples of the new order that came of age in Korea and Japan and left its indelible mark on the game.
When Turkey returned home after beating co-hosts South Korea in the third place playoff, fireworks, balloons and confetti filled the sky as thousands greeted a team who had gone into the tournament expected to pose a threat or two to the established order but certainly not as likely semifinalists. Suddenly, all the squabbles and conspiracy theories that at one stage threatened to send Turkey home empty-handed were forgotten.
While even the most passionate Turkish fans were surprised by the level of World Cup Dortmunsuccess, it has to be said that their footballers had already hinted at something of a renaissance by reaching the last eight at Euro 2000, the year Galatasaray also lifted the UEFA Cup by beating Arsenal in the final. Progress before and since may have gone relatively unnoticed outside the country but there was a growing belief back home that the new Millennium would witness a new power in world football.
Now comes England and Turkey's big motivation on Wednesday is two-fold: to gain revenge for those eight-goal drubbings and to make sure they push on from those heady days in the summer of last year. "For the first time in history, we are facing England knowing that we can go there and play an open game," said midfielder Emre Belozoglu, one of the stars of the World Cup campaign. "In contrast to previous games, the result is difficult to predict."
Emre, known as the Maradona of the Bosphorus at Inter Milan, is one of a number of Turkish players who ply their trade in Europe's elite leagues, a prime reason for the development of the country at international level. World-class may be an over-used word but Hasan Sas, whose mazy runs bamboozled opponents at the World Cup, comes close, as do Yildiray Basturk of Bayer Leverkusen and, of course, goalkeeper Rustu Recber, recently linked with Arsenal, whose war-painted face, long hair and acrobatics were such a feature of the World Cup. Then there is Ilhan Mansiz, the new heartthrob of Turkish football.
Yet bizarrely, the nation to which Turkey partially owes its footballing development is Germany. Seven of the Turkish squad in Korea and Japan were born there and the German influence on Turkish football has never been far away. Indeed, the Turkish FA have a bureau in Dortmund from where they co-ordinate their recruitment activities, spotting young talent - offspring of the massive Turkish immigrant population - who may be eligible.
It all started with Jupp Derwall, who was in charge of a Turkish side in the 1980s that included Fatih Terim and Moustapha Denizli, both of whom went on to manage the national side themselves. Umit Davala, the midfielder with the red hair streak, grew up in Germany as did the aforementioned Yildiray Basturk.
"I started to play when I was five and it helps us to play like the Germans," said Basturk whose father was an immigrant coal miner. Mansiz too grew up in Germany and in fact speaks Turkish with a German accent.
"Certainly the German-born players are important for us because they have great tactical awareness," said coach Senol Gunes. "We have talented players in Turkey but they have not always been given the best training in their early development."
They certainly have now, as England will no doubt discover at the Stadium of Light when the Turks, unbeaten except by Brazil since the start of the World Cup, aim to crown a decade of fighting their way into the top flight. They haven't even scored in eight meetings with England but few teams are more confident on present form. "England have so many good players," said Umit Davala, "but we're not scared of anyone any more. We don't look into old results. We look to the future."
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ENGLAND v TURKEY
WEDNESDAY APRIL 2nd
EURO 2004 QUALIFIER IN SUNDERLAND