Turkey are again among the most outstanding teams in a FIFA tournament. Despite a whole host of changes to their squad since the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, they have continued to shine, proving their third-place finish in the Far East was no fluke. FIFA.com caught up with coach Senol Gunes ahead of the semi-final clash with France on Thursday to talk about Turkey’s success story, eliminating Brazil and the new kids on the block.
FIFA.com: How do you see the game going against France?
Senol Gunes: It will be tough. France, former world champions and current European champions, are an excellent team. This match is a bit of an experiment for us and we will only see how our team can perform against a very strong side. We will try our best to win, of course, but we will also gain from the experience of playing against one of the best. Don’t forget that we beat Belgium at Euro 2000 and both Japan and Korea at the World Cup so why not France here. However, winning is not the only goal in this match.
Where do you see the match being won and lost?
The midfield battle will be crucial. France have a lot of star players and they work together well as a team. This is our strength too, but we have some absentees and because there are a lot of new players we have had some difficulty linking the lines between defence and midfield and midfield and attack.
Are you surprised how well young players such as Tuncay Sanli and Gokdeniz Karadeniz have done in this competition?
It didn’t surprise us because we know they are talented players. We’ve been following them for three years and had discussions with their club, youth and U-21 team coaches. Sometimes we call them up to our training camp to give them a bit of experience. They haven’t been called up before only because they were competing in the UEFA U-21 European Championship. However when the competition is over, they will return to the U-21 team.
Are you worried the young players might get nervous for the big game?
No, our philosophy is to play as a unit, attacking and defending at the same time. Individuals are not as important as the team. I have told them to show their skills on the pitch and that they are good enough to beat France.
Was there any mention or thought of revenge against Brazil in the last game?
No it was not about revenge. They were two totally different games. That was a World Cup semi-final and this is a group match in the Confederations Cup. Besides, both sides had a lot of changes. However, our matches against Brazil always seem to be cracking contests.
b>Many commentators described as daring the substitution you made in the first half against Brazil, bringing on forward Okan Yilmaz for midfielder Volkan Arslan. What was the reasoning behind it?
In the first half, our tactical plan was good but its application was not perfect so I made the change. If it hadn’t worked, I had another up my sleeve ready to implement. A coach should always be flexible with his tactics and have more than one plan to win a match.
You have suggested the use of five substitutes in this tournament. What benefits would this have? This competition is special because there are very few breaks between matches. One day to rest after so much travel has a big impact on the players. Maybe a rule can be made to change two players before half-time and three after the break. However I think making five changes in the second half would be wrong and ruin the game as a spectacle.
After 48 long years without competing in the World Cup, Turkey finished third in Korea/Japan. Now, you are in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. How has this change in football fortunes come about?
Turkey has undergone a lot of changes. As a country, we have become more integrated in the world and, as in Africa, Asia and America, technology has become very important in life. Developments at the Turkish Football Association led to a number of revolutionary changes in the way football is managed. Youth teams are now playing more matches at international level and gaining invaluable experience along the way. Many of these players have gone on to form the nucleus of the national team. Also, importantly, a lot of experienced foreign coaches have worked in Turkey, training my generation and many lessons have been learned from that. On top of all these things, there are greater and better facilities for players, while footballers have profited from changes to the mentality and administration of clubs. In the past, we used to import ideas from England, Brazil and Germany, but now we are able to stand alone and have even become the envy of others.
Turkey are known as the European Brazilians. Is this a true comparison?
Yes, there are a lot of similarities between Brazil and Turkey. France are also quite similar to us but our players are more creative and skilful. If we align all our qualities with French discipline, we can surely beat them. I like my players to express themselves on the pitch while also playing together as a team. To beat France, the ball has to be played on the ground.
Can Turkey win the FIFA World Cup in 2006?
Yes, of course, our target is to win the World Cup in 2006 or 2010, but there’s a fine line between success and failure. Remember how world champions France were eliminated in Korea/Japan.