It has been branded a revenge match for Turkey after their two heartbreaking defeats to Brazil at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, but in reality the crucial third and final match of Group B will involve few of the players who competed in the 2-1 (Ulsan, Korea) and 1-0 (Saitama, Japan) losses to the team that went on to become world champions. Instead Turkey coach Senol Gunes is set to reintroduce the band of young players that performed so well in their 2-1 opening victory against the United States in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
If he does go with the kids, it will be a brave decision. While Turkey can make do with just a draw at the scene of their first win at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, Gunes knows Brazil’s new coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will be gunning for victory to silence the doubters back home who have slowly, yet surely, been growing following a number of less than world champion-like performances of late.
In contrast, the Turkish media have been lapping it up. Even the 1-0 defeat to Cameroon in their second match was reported in a positive light. There had been some doubts expressed when observers saw that Gunes’ squad was without the familiar names of Hasan Sas, Hakan Sukur, Ilhan Mansiz, while Nihat Kahveci and Tayfun Korkut would be absent for the group phase due to commitments with their Spanish club Real Sociedad. But of the eight nations competing in France 2003, Turkey’s newcomers have made the biggest impression and appear to have the most promising talent of them all.
The player making the most headlines has been Tuncay Sanli. The Fenerbahce forward is no giant up front but he gets the most out of his 67-kilo frame to irritate defenders and has the knack of finding space where there appears to be none – perhaps the most intangible quality a striker can have. Although the 21-year-old has been criticised for not taking all the chances that come his way, he does weigh in with important goals, as demonstrated when he played a one-two with Volkan Arslan before rounding American keeper Tim Howard for the winner against the US.
Sanli is not the only jewel in the Turkish crown. Although rested for the match against Cameroon, the diminutive Gokdeniz Karadeniz shone as brightly as any of his team-mates against the Americans and deserved the praise heaped on him by US coach Bruce Arena. “His movement especially in the second half caused us a lot of problems down the right side,” he said.
The Trabzonspor midfielder seemed to be everywhere after the break, winning tackles, making darting runs and finding space to shoot from distance. The 23-year-old will surely be knocking on the coach’s door for a recall versus Brazil.
Of the other gems, 25-year-old Galatasaray midfielder Volkan Arslan impressed with his range of passing against the US, though less prominent versus Cameroon. As well as displaying a great awareness of the game, the tall, elegant Selcuk Sahin is a difficult man to dispossess when on the ball. The 22-year-old Istanbulspor star can also hit a mean free kick. And 25-year-old forward Okan Yilmaz of Bursaspor will also take some moving from the side when Turkey’s more recognised strikers return.
Despite the many new faces on both teams, there is bound to be some edge to the affair - Turkish fans would demand nothing less. Of the old guard who experienced the sickening, sinking feeling of semi-final defeat against Brazil, perhaps Yildiray Basturk will most want to put one over on the Selecao. After all, the presence of Bayer Leverkusen team-mate Lucio, cannot help but bring back memories of that occasion. Still only 24, the busy midfielder is certainly no old soldier and he, along with Rustu Recber, Alpay Ozalan, Fatih Akyel, Ergun Penbe and Bulent Korkmaz, will all have the painful memory of Saitama on their minds as they confront a new Brazil in Saint Etienne for a place in back-to-back FIFA tournament semi-finals.