Turkey have been waiting twelve long months for this day to come around. Here, at last, is the opportunity to gain revenge for two defeats suffered at the hands of Brazil in last summer’s FIFA World Cup™. Just like the last time the sides met, in the semi-final in Asia, this duel will be fatal to one of the protagonists, but the Turks are confident they will be the ones left standing this time. After all, Senol Gunes’ charges have a telling advantage - a draw will be enough to see them through to the FIFA Confederations Cup semi-finals. The Seleçao, on the other hand, must deliver a killer blow if they are to progress.
The Europeans are currently preparing for this crunch match at Saint-Priest, near Saint-Etienne. After an exciting 2-1 triumph over the USA and a narrow 0-1 defeat to African champions Cameroon, they are well aware they will qualify as long as they avoid defeat on Monday.
“This match is very important for more than one reason,” says experienced defender Alpay Ozalan. “We want to qualify, sure, but we want to beat them because they defeated us twice at the World Cup.”
For Alpay, a stalwart in the Korea/Japan side twelve months ago, memories of Asia are obviously still painful: “We are totally focussed on winning. It’s our chance for revenge. Brazil are a great side with great players like Ronaldinho and Emerson but we are really motivated.”
Alpay speaks up his side’s chances with a confidence based on his side’s exploits in Asia last year. Turkey’s third-place finish propelled them into the highest stratosphere of the world game. “There are eight great teams in this competition. In Europe, I think if you add Italy and Spain to France and Turkey you are looking at the best sides on the continent,” he reasons.
The Turkish squad at the FIFA Confederations Cup is much-changed from the one that exceeded all expectations last summer though, a development that is not without problems, according to the Aston Villa defender: “Eight players who were in the squad in Asia are not here, so it’s hard for the team to click straight away. The young players we have brought in are all excellent though, and we’re getting there.”
The aim is to prepare for the future, to ensure the side is ready for a serious assault on the next European and world titles. "These players will form the nucleus of the 2004 European Championship and 2006 World Cup sides. This competition is very important to help the new boys settle in – and it’s an excellent test for them,” he says.
Alpay and his ambitious team-mates are determined to prove that their run to the semi-final in Korea/Japan was not a flash in the pan, and they intend to use this FIFA Confederations Cup to achieve that end. They also know they can count on their fans to cheer them to victory too.
“I’m sure there will be 15–20,000 Turkish fans at the Brazil game. That will be a great help.,” he adds. “Anyway, our aim is quite simple: we want to win this tournament.”One of the veterans of Gunes’ side, to hear Alpay talk you would be forgiven for thinking he was a hungry newcomer. Could that be the key to Turkey’s success?