France boasts a thriving Turkish community - some 300,000 at the last count - principally based in the Paris and Rhône-Alpes regions. With the Turkish side on an all-time high after reaching the semi-finals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, we found more than enough volunteers willing to talk about how their side will fare in the forthcoming FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003.

Kebab houses flourish in the small winding streets of Paris’ popular République area. Parisians flock here at lunchtime for the succulent grilled lamb sandwiches and French fries. Most of these “shawarma” places are run by Turks who have more than a few things to say about their national team.

“We all watched the last World Cup in disbelief,” says Dugucan, owner of the Bosphore. “We’d gone 48 years without qualifying, so in the beginning we we’re just happy to be there.” For Mulud, a loyal customer and friend, his side’s success was down to their ambition: “After 50 years in the wilderness, we were hungrier than the other teams. We were really out to prove a point.”

Mehmet Sagir, who runs the Urfam M3, has still not got over it: “Never in our wildest dreams did we expect to finish third.” He recalls the atmosphere in the neighbourhood being electric during the tournament. “At the Bosphore we opened the champagne after we beat Senegal even though it was early in the morning,” Dugucan laughs. Mehmet, from the Engezek, also recalls unforgettable moments: “We put a TV in the restaurant and even at 11 o’ clock in the morning the place was packed out.”

Thirteen-year-old Yusuf recalls: “Our headmistress allowed us to watch the games. I was the only Turk but it was magic!” Mehmet Sagir’s restaurant was also jam-packed for the matches - and not only with Turks. “Against Senegal there were around 50 of us watching the game, around 30 French and 20 Turks. The banter between us was great,” he says.

Seeing their heroes in the flesh
This summer’s major tournament is being staged “at home” in France, where the Turkish team can expect a good following. “I’ll be going to the Stade de France,” says Mehmet. “And if we get to the semis, I hope I can get my hands on a ticket.” Yusuf is hoping his brother can get him seats. They all want to see last year’s heroes up close. p>Belief in their side is now sky high. “I’m sure they can win the Confederations Cup,” says Dugucan. The others are more circumspect, even young Yusuf: “We’ll do our best but it won’t be a pushover.” Mehmet feels the same way: “We’ve got a very strong team but let’s not forget we’re in the same group as Brazil…”

The game against the Seleçao is the one everybody is looking forward to. “We played well in our two games against them in Asia,” recalls Mehmet Sagir. “And this will be our chance to take our revenge.” Dugucan likes the sound of that: “This time we’ve got to beat them though. In the World Cup we came so close in both games.” Just like Yusuf, the assistant cook at the Engizek, Mustafa, is dreaming of a Final against the world champions.

The same names are on everyone’s lips: “Nihat, Emre, Okan and Umit Davala are all great players,” says Mehmet Sagir. “We’ve got more and more very talented youngsters who are physically strong because they play abroad.”But they all have great respect for the old guard from last Summer: “Hakan Sukur, Hasan Sas, Yildiray Basturk, Recber Rustu are the reason we got to the World Cup semi-final,” says Mustafa.

Nobody wants their team to play against France. “I wouldn’t know who to support,” confesses Mehmet. “It would be really bizarre. In ’98, when France won, I was absolutely thrilled. For me it was as if Turkey had won,” says Mehmet Sagir. Only Yusuf, the youngest in the group and the only one born in France, knows exactly where his loyalties lie: “I’ll be 100% behind Turkey. And if it’s a France versus Brazil final, I’ll be for Brazil,” affirms the youngster.

One thing is certain - the FIFA Confederations Cup will be a good excuse for a party. “If we win, we’ll paint Paris red,” says Mehmet Sagir. “From République to the Rue Saint-Denis, and then we’ll probably go to the Turkish Embassy near the Champs Elysées.”Yusuf agrees they should celebrate on the Champs Elysées - just like millions of French people did after the historic victory over Brazil on 12 July 1998…