UEFA EURO 2008 will be Turkey's first major tournament
since the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, with hopes of a bright
future engendered by their stunning third place finish in the Far
East having initially fizzled out in a couple of below-par
England got the better of the Turks in their qualifying group for UEFA EURO 2004 before the heartbreak of a play-off defeat to Latvia. Qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany followed a depressingly similar pattern, Ukraine winning the group and Switzerland the ensuing play-off.
The spiral of failure was emphatically broken in qualifying for EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, with the Turks finishing second behind continental champions Greece, holding off Norway and Bosnia-Herzegovina to book a place at a major finals for the first time in six years. But what can we expect of them? FIFA.com spoke exclusively to forward Halil Altintop, a regular in the Schalke side which made the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, to find out.
FIFA.com: Halil, UEFA EURO 2008 is just over a month away. It will be Turkey's first major tournament since the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where you finished third. What are Turkey hoping to achieve this time?
Halil Altintop: We're not going there as no-hopers. We have a good blend of youth and experience, and we showed our class in qualifying. Obviously we're not favourites in our group, but I believe we can make the quarter-finals, and after that, anything can happen.
Why were Turkey so disappointing in the period after your fine FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan?
We frequently lacked consistency. Qualifying for the EURO is the best example. We took 13 points from our first five matches, but then we lost to Bosnia and only drew away to Malta.
As you say, qualifying for the EURO in Austria and Switzerland was anything but a stroll. Where do Turkey fit in to the continental game right now?
We're not at the same level as the likes of Germany, France or Italy, but on a good day, we're capable of beating anyone.
Recent results have been less than convincing, with a 0-0 stalemate against Sweden and a 1-1 draw with Belarus. What do Turkey lack at the moment in order to play a decisive role this summer?
You should never read too much into friendlies. We Turks are quite playful, you know, and the beauty of the game often matters more than the result. That's the mentality you often see in friendlies, but once it gets serious, the concentration returns.
Portugal, who eliminated Turkey in the EURO 2000 quarter-finals, are one of your Group A opponents this summer. Are Ronaldo and Co the biggest threat to you making the quarter-finals?
They have exceptional individuals and are favourites to win the group, although we mustn't make the mistake of underestimating Switzerland and the Czechs. There's no point in us beating Portugal and then losing to the other two.
How would you rate the Czech Republic and the Swiss?
I know Germany handed the Swiss a heavy defeat recently, but you should never underestimate home advantage at a tournament like this. The 2006 World Cup in Germany showed what can happen when the players and the crowd start playing off one another. And the Czechs may not be quite as strong as in 2004, but they always keep it tight. Petr Cech is probably the best keeper in Europe, and they only conceded five goals in 12 qualifying fixtures.
Your twin brother Hamit is still recovering from a fractured metatarsal. How good are the chances of the two of you playing together at the EURO?
Very good. Hamit's well on the way to recovery. We're definitely expecting him to play at the tournament.
Like yourself, your brother is an important figure for Turkey, and he's one of the most experienced men in the squad. How big a loss would it be if he's unavailable?
He's crucial to the team. Hamit has bags of international experience and his attitude gives the team a real lift.
What's your role in Fatih Terim's team?
I'm regarded as one of the forward line, so I operate a little further up the field than I do at club level.
Who do you regard as favourites in Austria and Switzerland, and why?
Germany, France and Italy. For decades now, these are the teams who've learned how to grow stronger over the course of a tournament.