Turkey stunned the world with a magnificent charge to third place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, before confirming their status as contenders for a place at the top table of global football with a semi-final berth at UEFA EURO 2008. However, consistency has proved elusive, as the Turks missed out completely on the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals.
Halil Altintop is now aiming to on help his country back to the big stage at UEFA EURO 2012. The Gelsenkirchen-born forward, who grew up in Germany and currently plays for Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt, has amassed 31 senior international caps to date, and has set his sights on earning more in the years to come. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the 27-year-old.
FIFA.com: Halil, Turkey failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Where did you end up watching the finals, and what were you feeling while doing so?
Halil Altintop: Basically, I followed the World Cup from wherever I found myself at the time, even on holiday. Obviously we were disappointed not to be there. But as a player, you have to put this kind of thing behind you straight away, because there’s no time to lick your wounds, and the next challenge is always just around the corner. I’m fundamentally both Turkish and German, so I was cheering for Germany whenever they played. Every individual player found another gear, which was a positive surprise, and the team grew together amazingly well.
Turkey open their qualifying campaign for EURO 2012 away to Kazakhstan on 3 September. What would a place at the continental showdown in Poland and the Ukraine mean to your fans?
One of the tasks always facing our national team is to help realise our fellow countrymen’s dreams. If we manage to qualify, the Turkish fans would definitely enrich the tournament, in my opinion.
Would you say your EURO qualifying campaign is a chance to make amends for failing to feature at the 2010 World Cup?
Make amends? I wouldn’t say that, but I would say we definitely have the quality to take part in these major tournaments. We just have to make that quality count. We owe it to ourselves to make sure we qualify for the next major tournament, the EURO in 2012.
Why have Turkey come up short in their quest for a permanent place among the world’s footballing elite?
I think we suffered yet another of our relapses in World Cup qualifying. More than anything else, we failed to defend with the necessary discipline and as a team. That was the main reason we didn’t make it to South Africa.
Are you confident these problems have been ironed out now?
Of course I am! We’re very well aware of what we did wrong. And we also have a great new coach. Guus Hiddink is one of the most experienced men around, so we’re all very optimistic. I had a really good feeling when I learned he was to be our new coach, because you only ever hear good things about him. I’m delighted at the chance to work under a coach as good as him. He’s demonstrated his quality all over the world.
How would you assess EURO 2012 qualifying Group A?
I think we’ve been drawn in a good group with very evenly-matched teams. We’ll need to be on our guard the whole time, especially at home, because there’s always the risk of dropping valuable points to the likes of Germany and Belgium. Both nations are very experienced, especially the Germans. They showed it again in the most recent World Cup qualifying campaign, when they went to Russia under pressure and still managed a comfortable 1-0 win. You’ve got to admire that.
How do you see your role for Turkey?
It's hard to say at the moment, because as I’ve mentioned, we have a new coach. Obviously, I hope and believe I’ll have a greater role than under Fatih Terim. I’ve been involved twice under Hiddink so far, but I’d have been delighted at the chance to help the team even more than I ended up doing. If the coach chooses to put his faith in me, I can guarantee I’ll repay that on the pitch.
Last summer, you opted to extend your stay with Eintracht Frankfurt, because you believe you can contribute to the team’s progress as a senior member of the dressing room hierarchy. Do you think a leading role at club level can help strengthen your position in the national set-up?
Exactly. That was a decisive factor in choosing not only to stay at Eintracht, but also in the Bundesliga. The overall quality in German football has gone up tremendously in the years following the 2006 World Cup, and I naturally want to remain part of that. And I hope I can continue to assist the Eintracht cause.
What makes Eintracht so special?
The club has huge potential, and Frankfurt is a big, cosmopolitan city. Eintracht have fantastic fans, and a wonderful stadium too. And there’s a huge amount of potential in the current squad. We can still get a great deal better.
Frankfurt have targeted 50 points in the Bundesliga this season. You finished on 46 last term, so is that a realistic goal?
It's definitely realistic, but it also depends on how we approach the task. In the second half of last season, we won at home against Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen, and away to Borussia Dortmund, but that’s history now. Games like that showed we have the quality, but now we need to add consistency.
Your twin brother Hamit also plays in the Bundesliga. You must have very mixed feelings about that...
We have a unique relationship. We did pretty much everything together as kids, and we shared our passion for football. Nowadays, we really do talk on the phone two or three times a day, chatting about everything that’s happening. One of us only has to utter the first few words, and the other knows at once exactly what mood he’s in. It's something we both value enormously.
But I’ll bet you don’t talk as much in the days leading up to Eintracht versus Bayern?
[Laughs] We’ve played for different clubs for eight or so years now, so we cross swords twice a season in any case – with the exception of the one season we spent at Schalke. So we’re used to the situation. But you’re right, we don’t talk quite as often in the days prior to Eintracht playing Bayern. We know friendships have to be suspended on the field of play. There’s no love lost between us in matches [laughs]. But afterwards we go back to being brothers!