Few would have foreseen a defeat as emphatic as Turkey's 4-1 reverse at the hands of France last night, the hosts having gone into the game in high spirits and confident mood after some fine results in the group stage.
However, being the host nation’s representatives at a FIFA World Cup presents challenges as well as opportunities, and the Turkish players clearly found it difficult to handle the weight of expectation placed on them by their own crowd. The home side started the game brightly but struggled to cope with a physically far superior French team.
Understandably, there were plenty of downcast faces in the Turkish camp after the defeat. But there was also a strong sense of pride at having competed in the knockout stage of a FIFA World Cup, and a determination to build on this invaluable experience for the future.
A number of the players were able to keep their emotions in check and speak to FIFA.com after the game. Goalkeeper Aykut Ozer, who was visibly distraught at having let in four goals, told us: “It’s very hard to take – it was such a terrible feeling when they made it 4-0. We shouldn’t have been eliminated from the tournament this early. All I could think about in the dressing room after the game was, ‘How we could let this happen to us’.”
The 20-year-old also gave his verdict on the game, saying: “We didn’t play to our potential and France deserved the victory, I came here to play in the final, so only making the Round of 16 is disappointing. We all know that Turkey is a country which lives and breathes football, so it hurts even more that we let so many people down.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that our understanding of football in Turkey has some catching up to do when compared with the stronger teams.
For his part, Okay Yokuslu had a grim look on his face after leaving the dressing rooms but still took the time to talk to FIFA.com. “We lacked confidence and lost control of the game. France dominated possession and we began to tire as we tried to press. When they scored it was a huge blow,” Yokuslu admitted. The 19-year-old midfielder also spoke about Les Bleuets’ physical advantage, saying, “France have powerful players and, as a team, they were physically stronger than us. This gave them a big advantage over us.”
The FIFA U-20 World Cup can serve as an invaluable learning curve for the players involved, as Yokuslu himself confirmed: “Playing at this level was fantastic and not something every player my age gets to experience. I was able to represent my country on the world stage and meet footballers from all over the world. I’ve gained so much knowledge over the past few weeks; it’s something I’ll never forget.” The Kayserispor starlet also touched on his thoughts regarding Turkey’s early exit from the competition, saying: “Unfortunately Turkey has not qualified for the World Cup on a regular basis. It was an achievement for us to make it past the group stages. Obviously we aimed much higher but it wasn’t to be.”
Yokuslu is in many regards the archetypal modern central midfielder – he is powerful, reads the game well and carries a goal-scoring threat. “Whenever I compete against other countries it makes me wonder how I would do abroad,” the player said. “Over the course of the tournament, I’ve come to the conclusion that our understanding of football in Turkey has some catching up to do when compared with the stronger teams,” he added, showing a level of maturity, self-criticism and responsibility not often seen in players so young.
And while Ozer, Yokuslu and their team-mates still have a long way to go in their playing careers, the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 will undoubtedly have served as an important platform in aiding their development.