Feyyaz Ucar is one of a small group of people who can already claim, even at this early stage of the year, that the coming 12 months will be extraordinary. A former Turkey international striker, Ucar will have the honour of coaching his country's side at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 on home soil.
Full of pride and creative ideas, the 49-year-old is hoping his charges can cause a sensation in their homeland. "It’s a huge excitement to host FIFA’s second-biggest international event after the World Cup, across seven cities of Turkey, but it also hands us huge responsibility," Ucar told FIFA.com in interview.
The former striker netted 170 goals in 320 appearances for Besiktas and added a further seven in his 25 outings for Turkey. He is therefore well aware of his compatriots’ passionate desire to see as many victories as possible.
Consequently, with approximately five months to go before the tournament kicks off on 21 June, Ucar is banking on a combination of self-confidence, will to win and realism. On the one hand, he knows Turkish football has long had the potential to cause a few surprises.
However, that is tempered by the desire to protect his young protégés: "We don’t want to put too much stress on the players by setting big targets," said Ucar. "Our primary target is to reach the knockout stage. It will be an important step for us."
Anyone familiar with the Turkish mentality will know exactly what is possible, especially after watching the senior side be carried along by an ever-increasing wave of euphoria to third place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ and a semi-final appearance at UEFA EURO 2008.
"Given the determination and talent of our youngsters, we want to go as far as we possibly can," continued Ucar. "If our team can qualify from the group phase, every subsequent match will be played in a final-like atmosphere thanks to the support of our fans." Indeed, should the host nation get into their stride they will surely be extremely difficult to stop.
Preparations for the tournament are in full swing and the U-18, U-19 and U-20 sides played a total of 38 matches last year. On top of that, Ucar points out that his assistant coach Emre Asik, who himself played for Turkey at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Australia 1993, has been telling the players of his "unique experiences" at the competition.
"Nowadays, young players are particularly aware of the importance of appearing in the U-20 World Cup," said Ucar. "As the opening day of the tournament approaches, they are doing their job in a more serious and concentrated way. Being a part of a World Cup finals is not an ordinary thing in a professional footballer’s career."
For now though, the sense of anticipation is at the forefront of the coach’s mind. "We’ll play two of our three group matches in Trabzon and one in Rize. I have been to those two cities many times during my playing days and see the huge passion for football there," said Ucar, who is certain the local fans will get behind their U-20 team. Even now, the coach can hardly wait for the tournament draw to take place on 25 March.
Being a part of a World Cup finals is not an ordinary thing in a professional footballer’s career.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the Turkish team is counting solely on home support to drive them forward. Ucar is conscious of the strength in his side. "I have players who are very creative. There are many lads who I can call key players. I think my team will collectively make an impact, not just one or two key players," he explained.
Yet the tactician believes there is still room for improvement. Being able to "think and act more quickly in the game" are of high importance, as is a greater efficiency in front of goal. "If we can get rid of our problems in set pieces, which is a widespread issue in Turkish football, we can aim to win in every game," Ucar stated.
It will be Turkey’s third participation at a FIFA U-20 World Cup. At Australia 1993 they did not survive the group stages, with Brazil the eventual winners. Twelve years later Turkey lost to Spain in the last 16, when Argentina went on to take the crown. Alongside Spain and Portugal, Ucar considers both South American heavyweights as favourites this time around too, provided they secure qualification.
"Of course, like in every tournament, there will be surprise packages, which add colour to the event," concluded the coach with a grin. No prizes for guessing which team he would like to see fulfil that role.