Turkey emerge once more
© AFP

After a roller-coaster six-year ride, Turkish football is once again on a high and seemingly poised to stake a claim for readmission to the top table of the international game.

The Bosporus reverberated to the sound of celebration when the Turks claimed a sensational third place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, but fell into deep mourning when the team missed out on the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ in a dramatic play-off against Switzerland. Many fans feared the Turks were fated to be a one-hit-wonder in the annals of world football, but last week's 1-0 home success against Bosnia and Herzegovina saw Fatih Terim's men take second spot in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying Group C, sealing a berth at next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland.

The unit inspired by Newcastle United schemer Emre Belozoglu and Bayern Munich workhorse Hamit Altintop has successfully banished the bitter memory of past failure, and will now be bursting with determination and resolve in another tilt at the biggest names in the continental game. The latest triumph has naturally had a positive effect on the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings.

Set to regain top ten spot
Turkey have climbed an impressive twelve places from 28th to 16th, adding 153 ranking points compared to the previous month and laying solid foundations for a future return to top ten status, although the Turks' best-ever placing since the introduction of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings remains some way over the horizon, as they reached the heady heights of fifth in June 2004. However, nothing is impossible in this nation of dedicated fans passionately consumed by football.

Turkey's rapid ascent largely traces to their two utterly crucial victories at the conclusion to qualifying for the continental showdown in 2008, as Terim and his troops snatched triumph from the looming jaws of failure. The situation looked bleak back in mid-October when Eintracht Frankfurt hitman Ioannis Amanatidis fired reigning European champions Greece to a 1-0 victory in Istanbul, but just a month later, Emre and Nihat Kahveci helped their team come from behind to register a 2-1 success in a do-or-die trip to closest rivals Norway, before Nihat completed the job with the winner against the Bosnians.

Following the spectacular turnaround in fortune, Terim was able to indulge in a spot of philosophising. "If we'd failed to take this chance, somebody would have had to take responsibility, and that's what I would have done," the coach mused, before turning his steely gaze to Austria and Switzerland. "Now we've made the finals, and I'll be staying with the team. I promised we'd qualify and make an impression at the finals. We've kept the first part of the bargain - now we need to focus on the second."

Weight of expectation on Nihat's shoulders
The prolific Nihat, who turned 28 two days before netting the crucial winner against Bosnia Herzegovina, appears set to take on the mantle of superstardom in his home country, although that will only increase the burden of expectation on his shoulders. Currently riding the crest of a wave with high-flying Spaniards Villarreal, Nihat rates as one of the hottest properties in Europe and is faithfully following in the footsteps of his personal idol, Turkey great Hakan Sukur. "I've come back from one or two serious injuries, and everything will be a lot better now. Qualifying shouldn't have been such a close-run thing for us, but we deserved to go through. My goals [against Norway and Bosnia Herzegovina] ended up winning the matches, but let's not forget the work we put in as a team. We've won two crunch matches and showed the world what we're capable of," the player declared.

Football is littered with examples of teams extracting their heads from a beckoning noose and going on to greatness, inspired and drawn closer together by the narrow escape. It will be fascinating to observe the resurgent Turks' progress in the months and years to come.