Hakan Sükür could lead the line for Turkey on Wednesday night and if so, he'll b
Hakan Sükür could lead the line for Turkey on Wednesday night and if so, he'll be looking to score his country's first-ever goal against England, and he has Blackburn Rovers manager Graeme Souness to thank for that.
Come kick-off time at the Stadium of Light, it will be striker Hakan who will not only have an important role to play in taming the Three Lions, but also prove the most to his fellow countrymen.
That may seem strange for a man who once scored 70 times in 66 games during two seasons with Galatasaray and who is also his country's all-time leading goalscorer with an impressive 37 strikes in 80 internationals, including the fastest-ever goal recorded in the history of the World Cup against South Korea last summer (eleven seconds).
Before he led his team to their first World Cup finals for 48 years in Korea and Japan, Hakan was both a national hero, known throughout the Bosphorus simply as The King, and Turkey's most recognisable football face throughout the world. But following what for him was a below par personal performance at the finals, Hakan found himself out-of-favour with Günes at the start of qualifying for Euro 2004.
Without their absent skipper, the Turks had few problems in overcoming the trio of challenges posed by Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein to top the group ahead of their meeting with Sven-Göran Eriksson's side, scoring ten times in the process with a new, youthful strike partnership combining Real Sociedad's Nihat Kahveci and Besiktas' Ilhan Mansiz.
Hakan meanwhile was recovering from injury, loss of form and a second disappointing spell in Serie A with firstly Internazionale, and then Parma on loan. But, having not kicked a ball in anger since pulling on a Parma shirt last August, and in desperate need of some first-team action to rekindle his international career, the 31-year-old moved to Ewood Park in December, and despite immediately breaking his leg in training, made his full debut for Blackburn in their 2-0 defeat of champions Arsenal three weeks ago.
Günes, like his counterpart this, favours a system in attack that pairs together split strikers with vastly differing characteristics, one tall and physical, the other quick and mobile and that is why Hakan is likely to be recalled to the side in place of the in-form Nihat, especially given the fact that, as everyone has been reminding them this past week, Turkey have never scored a goal against England in eight previous encounters.
It is ironic therefore that without a Scotsman's intervention, Hakan would not be on the collective minds of England defenders tonight, but it is still a massive risk by Günes to select a player with just one game and no goals under his belt in the last seven months ahead of an in-form 22-year-old striker who has found the back of the net 14 times already in this season's Primera División.
And yet it is also a sign of his massive influence both within the team and the country itself. At the 2002 World Cup, despite his poor form and the heavy criticism that he took from the Turkish media, there was never any question of him not being selected as both captain and No 1 striker in the side and Souness for one is a great admirer of the players 'natural athleticism' having coached him before when the two were together at Galatasaray.
But, with Turkey already two points ahead of their rivals in Group 7, a point will not only maintain their leadership of the table, but will also keep their qualifying destiny within their own hands, something that Hakan alluded to at the weekend. "The only good result for England is winning the game," said the former Galatasaray, Torino, Inter and Parma forward.
"We can be satisfied with a win or a draw. It means we can be confident, and if we get our tactics right, it will be no surprise if we win."
The whole of Turkey will be praying that their leader scores in Sunderland, because they have never lost a match in which he has netted, although Hakan himself is more interested in the final result. "It isn't important that I score," he added. "It's only important Turkey wins."
And with what coach Günes describes as 'the best squad in Turkish history', there is probably no better opportunity to put one over the English almost ten years to the day that the two sides last met in Izmir.
But 'The King' is grateful to England and is enjoying his time at Blackburn. "I'd like to thank the people of England, not just for creating football, but for creating such a lovely ambience in which it is played."
We couldn't agree more.