Turkey are sitting pretty in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, after a 3-0 win in Kazakhstan and a 3-2 home victory over Belgium. That flawless start to the campaign has largely swept away any lingering disappointment at the nation’s failure to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
"Obviously we were disappointed not to be there," forward Halil Altintop told FIFA.com recently. "But you have to put these things behind you as quickly as you can, because there’s no time to dwell on the past - you have to focus on the next challenge."
The Eintracht Frankfurt man appreciates all too well that an entire nation is desperate to see their heroes appear at Poland/Ukraine 2012: "One of the tasks for the players is to realise the dreams of our compatriots."
In the search for a steady hand at the reins, with a track record of blending talented individuals into a coherent team, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) appointed Guus Hiddink as their new coach on 1 August. The 63-year-old has tasted success all over the world: at club level with PSV and Real Madrid, and on the international stage with the Netherlands, Korea Republic and Australia.
"I’m very happy to be the head coach of the Turkish national team," Hiddink told FIFA.com. "The Turkish Football Federation’s executive committee has a big vision and they have plans for the future. That’s what I like in football."
Some 20 years ago, back in the 1990/91 season, Hiddink became acquainted with the unique Turkish football scene during a stint with Istanbul giants Fenerbahce. "People love football in Turkey and that was one of the reasons that attracted me here," he revealed. "It’s a way of life for them.
"Turkish footballers enjoy playing. We have both talented and experienced players, and that’s a plus when you’re competing in a high-level competition. Our players are well aware of what is expected from them, both on and off the pitch. It really is a pleasure to watch Arda [Turan] play. He’s a fantastic player."
The man in question, an exciting 23-year-old left-winger from Galatasaray, told FIFA.com: "The people in Turkey are extremely passionate and would never give up on the team they love. I'm a very patriotic person and have plenty to thank my country for, so pulling on the national strip means a lot to me. It's a great honour."
Turkey jumped seven places on the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, into their best position in over a year. For Hiddink, that is just the start. "We’ll try to move to the top 15," he declared. "On the other hand, we should face the current reality. We can’t act and talk like Turkey are in the top five."
Nevertheless, the potential is clearly there, as the nation's third-place finish at Korea/Japan 2002 and charge to the EURO 2008 semi-finals demonstrate. "In the short term, I’m trying to spot the areas where we need to improve," said the former Chelsea manager. "Turkish players have no problems with technique. We need to add some courage and vision to it."
Hiddink’s arrival has patently had an immediate impact, as the Turks won not only their opening EURO 2012 qualifiers, but also his first match in charge; a 2-0 friendly victory over Romania. In the Group 1 standings, they are second, level on points with Joachim Low's star-studded section favourites.
"Germany put in a very good performance at the World Cup, and historically they’ve always been successful qualifying competitions and, even more importantly, in the finals. I’m looking forward to the game in Berlin next month." The sides meet at the Olympiastadion on 8 October.
Apart from Germany, Turkey also face Austria, Belgium, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in their group. "Qualifying for the EURO 2012 finals is our first major target," Hiddink said. "Another target is injecting new young players into our team. We’ll try to form a playing style that suits the nature of Turkish players, and that means attacking football. The people in the stands really like to see attractive football."
However, the Turkish fans will have to wait a little while before witnessing their heroes on home soil. After trips to Germany and Azerbaijan, Hiddink's troops will complete their 2010 programme with a friendly in the Netherlands on 17 November.
They are not due to play in front of their own supporters until Austria pay them a visit on 29 March next year. That should give Turkey coach the time he needs to monitor his players’ progress and continue to refine the fast, attacking style he envisages his new team.