Turkish football is renowned for its emotion and passion, something former West Germany goalkeeper Toni Schumacher was lucky enough to experience first-hand during his time there between 1988 and '91. Unsurprisingly, the 76-time-capped international is anticipating a hugely successful FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 in the country in seven months' time.
"To experience a match in a Turkish stadium with these supporters is the ultimate for any football fan," Schumacher told FIFA.com. The 58-year-old knows better than most having captained Fenerbahce to the league title in his first season on the Bosporus. "Football is like a religion there," he added, smiing.
According to Schumacher, the 19th edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, to be held in the host cities of Antalya, Bursa, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Kayseri, Rize and Trabzon, promises to be a real highlight.
"Knowing the Turkish people as I do, they'll be unbelievably proud to host this tournament," he said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for them to show what they can do. I'm sure they'll take this chance and do everything they can to make sure everyone has a great time. The stadiums are going to be packed and it's going to be something really special for all the young players involved."
The night we won the title, they completely closed off a six-lane road in front of my house – just to party!
Aside from his duties as vice-president of German second-tier outfit Cologne, for whom he made 422 Bundesliga appearances, Schumacher still manages to visit Turkey three to four times a year, supporting social projects such as an orphanage in Manavgat, near Antalya. For the UEFA EURO 1980 winner, the land that links Europe and Asia geographically will always be his second love when it comes to football.
"I'll never forget what I experienced in my three years there as a player," explained the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cup™ runner-up. "Turkey will always remain one of the highlights of my career. The night we won the title, they completely closed off a six-lane road in front of my house – just to party! Can you imagine?
"And when I went to a restaurant with my wife, all the other guests gave us a standing ovation. For Turkish people it's a sign of respect and pride. For me it was an incredibly emotional, wonderful moment."
Rooting for Turkey
Schumacher is also expecting big things from Turkey in a sporting sense, and revealed he still keeps a close eye on the developments of the national team and his former club Fener:
"It's a shame that Turkey haven't been at major tournaments more often, but everyone knows that technically they're very good," he said. "They've got some outstanding players and if they can mix it with tactical discipline, they're not to be underestimated."
That is precisely why the two-time German Footballer of the Year (1984 and 1986) not only believes the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey will be an incredible experience for fans, but also that the host nation can cause a surprise or two. And since Germany failed to qualify for the tournament, there are no prizes for guessing who Schumacher will be supporting next June.