Turkey were down in 25th place on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in May, a level to which they had not sunk since 2006. But the team coached by Fatih Terim, who took the reins in August 2005, have improved significantly in recent months and have duly stormed into tenth.
After a couple of below-par performances at the start of the calendar year, including draws against Sweden and Belarus, Turkey went from strength to strength in the following months. "We Turks are quite playful, you know, and the beauty of the game often matters more than the result," Schalke forward Halil Alintop told FIFA.com.
"That’s the mentality you often see in friendlies, but once it gets serious the concentration returns," By mid-2008, Terim’s men were back among the top 20 in the world.
Fine EURO drives progress
A strong showing at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland confirmed Turkey are back and a force to be reckoned with. Semih Senturk and Co reached the semi-finals, disposing of Czech Republic Croatia along the way. The side captained by Emre Belozoglu then slipped to a narrow 3-2 defeat by Germany, unluckily missing out on a major final for the second time after falling at the same hurdle at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
The rousing run nonetheless elevated the Turks to 14th on July's FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, a position they were able to improve to 13th the following month.
Their latest placing, Turkey’s best since occupying fifth in June 2004, owes much to a 1-0 friendly victory over Chile in Izmit. The team from the Bosporus currently boast 1,033 points, ahead of traditionally strong European sides such as France (11th), Russia (12th), Romania (13th) and England (15th).
Road to South Africa
Terim revealed his plans for the coming years to FIFA.com in February. "Our goal is to qualify for every major tournament," he said.
The team have certainly taken the first steps towards hitting their target, even if their latest result was disappointing. Turkey are on four points from their first two South Africa 2010 qualifiers, although a 2-0 win in Armenia and a 1-1 home draw with Belgium were less than convincing.
The footballing world will watch with interest to see if Turkey, previously represented at the 1954 and 2002 FIFA World Cups, have what it takes for a third tilt at the Trophy. Bosnia-Herzegovina are due in Istanbul next month, before Terim's charges head for Tallinn and a meeting with Estonia four days later.
The Bosnians appear a real threat in the group this time round, and Turkey will need to rediscover their scintillating EURO form to retain their excellent position on the Ranking and continue their march towards South Africa. Indeed, European qualifying Group 5 also includes Spain, the reigning continental champions, although the two favourites in the section do not meet until March 2009.