A late run in qualifying got them into the tournament, but how will Turkey fare when it kicks off?
Turkey main player profile: Gokhan Tore
The Turkish national team is not short on larger than life characters but the story of the Crescent-Stars bad-boy Gokhan Tore is extraordinary. He was orphaned as a child, survived a gun battle and almost tore the national team apart.
Tore suffered his first setback in life shortly after birth in Cologne, Germany. He was given up for adoption but his grandparents managed to win back custody when he was two years old. Tore’s grandfather, Sabri, was responsible for first introducing him to football and took him to training every week. Tore was 14 when his grandfather died. His final wish was for Tore to represent the Turkish national team. A year later he broke into the Turkish Under-15 national team and rose through the ranks until his debut for the senior Turkey side on 10 August 2011 under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink.
Tore had a troubled upbringing in a rough neighbourhood but got his big break when the former Chelsea sporting director Frank Arnesen spotted him in 2009. At the age of 17 he moved to Stamford Bridge and rose through the youth ranks before following Arneson on his next position as sporting director of Hamburg.
The explosive winger was one of the most highly rated players in the Chelsea academy and there is no doubting his talent but he found it difficult to overcome his off-field demons. Tore is no stranger to controversy and an incident in a hotel three years ago rocked the national team to its foundations. In May 2013, following Turkey’s loss against Holland in their final 2014 World Cup qualifier, Omer Toprak, a friend and Hakan Calhanoglu were at the national team hotel before their flight back to Germany the following morning.
Tore had allegedly been stewing over Toprak’s friend making sexual advances towards his girlfriend. He was determined to get even – even if his team-mates were in the way.
Accompanied by a sidekick whose identity remains unknown, Tore is alleged to have gained access to Toprak and Calhanoglu’s hotel room after the pair had returned there. "Then the real story began," Calhanoglu explained in an interview with the German TV channel ZDF. "Gokhan’s friend walked over to Omer, pulled out a gun from his jacket and told him he would be shot if he didn’t lay flat on the floor.
"I was lying in a corner. He then came up to me and said: ‘Don’t move or I will shoot you. I was curled up in the corner of the room, I couldn’t move, I was scared for my life."
The story was kept quiet until last October’s Euro 2016 qualifier against the Czech Republic, when the manager, Fatih Terim, decided to recall Tore after a mysterious year’s absence from the team. Joining Besiktas in 2013 marked a turning point in his career. Slaven Bilic triumphed where others had failed in finding a way to channel Tore’s explosiveness into his football. Under the stewardship of the current West Ham United manager Tore established himself as one of the most dangerous players on the field and really knuckled down. Terim simply could not afford to ignore him any longer. Turkey were languishing just above last place in the Euro 2016 qualification Group A and headed for an early exit.
The Crescent-Stars desperately needed their best players and Terim decided to gamble. Terim also invited Calhanoglu and Toprak but Bayer Leverkusen declared their players ineligible due to injury. This was interpreted in Turkey as a convenient way for the club to keep two of their most valuable players at distance from Tore.
Terim’s roll of the dice did eventually pay off. Turkey booked a place in Euro 2016 against all the odds winning their last three games, against Czech Republic, the favourites Holland and against the leaders Iceland in the final match, thanks to a last-gasp winner. There was, however, a casualty from the Tore-Calhanoglu-Toprak debacle. While Tore and Calhanoglu patched things up Toprak remains out of the squad and will not be travelling to France. Tore meanwhile will be travelling with the national team despite being suspended for the first two games of the group stage – after being sent off against Iceland.
Tore became synonymous with trouble even when it was not necessarily his fault. In 2014 he was at a nightclub when a fight broke out. Shots were fired and a stray bullet hit him in the shoulder. Miraculously he was not badly injured and returned to playing football just a few weeks later.
A club statement read: 'Gokhan Tore hurt his shoulder due to a man with a gun who was arguing with his girlfriend at a night club. The bullet accidently hit Gokhan Tore's shoulder and another five people were hurt in the attack. Our player has no connection with the attacker.'
Despite his bad-boy image Tore actually has a pretty impressive disciplinary record, having picked up only one red card for Besiktas since joining three years ago. It is mystifying at times to understand Tore’s behaviour but it is perhaps even more difficult to grasp how tough his childhood must have been. When Tore was operated on in Germany in 2014 the Turkish press were surprised to see his Besiktas team-mates turn out to offer him support at the airport after his recovery. When reporters found out that his team-mates made the trip because he had no other family the public’s perception of Tore changed. There is no excusing some of the incidents he has been involved in but he has been given a second chance in the national team and has the potential to make an even bigger name for himself in France this summer.
Tactics and key questions
4-2-3-1 is the main formation Fatih Terim has deployed but he has experimented with a 4-4-1-1 and 4-3-3 at times. The "Emperor" ripped apart most of the old guard with a few notable exceptions such as Arda Turan, Selcuk Inan, Gokhan Gonul and Mehmet Topal.
Turkey could not have got their Euro 2016 qualifiers off to a worse start. Terim’s boys were joint last, level with Kazakhstan, three games into their qualifying group. The team was disjointed, lacked synergy and most surprising of all for a team coached by the "Emperor" they lacked spirit. Despite almost becoming public enemy No1 Terim persisted in promising that things would improve. And they did … drastically.
In their final three games Turkey beat Holland 3-0 and then took care of business against the Czech Republic in Prague, winning 2-0, but Terim’s side still needed to win against Iceland and hope that the Czechs drew with or beat the Dutch. Results were going Turkey’s way but they still needed a goal and were drawing in the 90th minute until the captain, Inan, scored a last-gasp free-kick to book a place in Euro 2016.
The team has now started to gel and Terim has a rough idea of his strongest side going into the tournament. The two central midfielders are likely to comprise the Galatasaray captain Inan and the 20-year-old Fenerbahce rising star Ozan Tufan. Inan has an impressive passing range and the ability to also play as a deep-lying playmaker. Tufan meanwhile is an assiduous box-to-box midfielder, giving Turkey dynamism in midfield. Terim has the option of playing Topal in a three-man midfield but seems intent on playing him as a centre-back.
Having to play a defensive midfielder in defence highlights one of Terim’s biggest problems. Terim will not have the Bayer Leverkusen defender Omer Toprak available, which has created a headache for the former Galatasaray coach. Topal and the Bursaspor defender Serdar Aziz seem the most likely pairing but the experienced Galatasaray stalwart Hakan Balta is also in with a shot.
Elsewhere in defence Terim has plenty of options. Fenerbahce’s Caner Erkin will be the first-choice full-back but his team-mate Hasan Ali Kaldirim will be vying for a spot. On the right Gokhan Gonul and Besiktas’s Ismail Koybasi will compete for a place.
It is in attacking midfield that Terim really is spoilt for choice. Arda Turan will almost certainly be first-choice on the wings. The Bayer Leverkusen star Hakan Calhanoglu could be forced to play on the left wing with arguably the Super Lig player of the season, Oguzhan Ozyakup of Besiktas, in a central attacking midfield role. Gokhan Tore will be in the mix as will the in-form Mainz midfielder Yunus Malli. Fenerbahce’s Alper Potuk and Volkan Sen will also provide additional depth. There has been talk of Terim scrapping playing a striker altogether and using Malli, Turan or Calhanoglu upfront as a false nine. Considering the lack of striking options it is not difficult to see the logic. The Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun has broken into the team recently but he played only a bit-part role as second fiddle to Mario Gómez this season. Mevlut Erdinc has hardly been in scintillating form and Burak Yilmaz is struggling with an injury problem in eastern China with Beijing Guoan.
Terim controversially left the Fenerbahce goalkeeper Volkan Demirel out of the squad. While Demirel is undoubtedly a more experienced keeper than Volkan Babacan the head coach decided Demirel was not good for team harmony.
The emphasis of Terim’s style is fast passing, possession-based technical football. Turkey have the quality in midfield to keep hold of the ball and while they are a little toothless up front the likes of Calhanoglu, Ozyakup and Turan are capable of creating magic.
Terim has managed to find balance in an unbalanced team but any injuries to the centre-backs or forwards will prove a major headache. The sea of talent in midfield could however, just be enough to paper over the cracks.
- Which player will take everyone by surprise at Euro 2016?
Arsenal youth football aficionados may just remember Oguzhan Ozyakup. The former Dutch Under-21 captain who switched allegiance to Turkey joined Besiktas from the Gunners for only €500,000 in 2012. The 23-year-old has gone on to establish himself as one of the brightest talents in Turkish football and played a key role in Besiktas winning the league title this season, pulling the strings in midfield. Ozyakup is capable of playing centrally and in an attacking role. He contributed 10 goals as well as eight assists for the Black Eagles this season and stunned his country of birth, Holland, scoring in the 3-0 victory over the Oranje. Ozyakup has started all of Turkey’s last eight games and is likely to keep his place in midfield going into Euro 2016.
- Which player could be a disappointment?
Terim made a huge call in dropping the Fenerbahce goalkeeper Demirel and giving Babacan the nod. Taking the Basaksehir keeper ahead of the more experienced Demirel is a risk and if he makes any mistakes it could all backfire for Terim.
- How far do you think your team will go and why?
Due to the nature of their qualification Turkey are under no public pressure. Getting to the tournament was an unexpected achievement in itself but Terim has built a siege mentality in the team and the last time he got Turkey to the European Championships, in 2008, his side reached the semi-finals. The Crescent-Stars have done exceptionally well in the previous two major tournaments for which they qualified – finishing third at the 2002 World Cup, and reaching the last four of Euro 2008 – and could very well end up being dark horses. Turkey could progress as far as the semi-finals again. Terim has installed his never-say-die attitude and this side have a lot more quality than the squad he took to Euro 2008.
Secrets behind the players:
- International nationals
Eleven of the provisional 31-man squad were not actually born in Turkey. Eight were born in Germany which is home to the largest Turkish community in Europe with an estimated population of between three and four million. Some of the biggest stars in the team, including Hakan Calhanoglu, Yunus Malli and Nuri Sahin, were born in Germany. As were the likes of Mesut Özil, Emre Can and Ilkay Gundogan who could have also represented Turkey but opted for the country of their birth.
- Mehmet Topal
Topal is nicknamed "spiderman" on account of the good use to which he puts his dangly long legs to win the ball but perhaps his new moniker should be superman. Few players have been unfortunate enough to have faced two attempts on their life. Even fewer have been fortunate enough to survive both. Last April Topal was travelling in the Fenerbahce team bus that was attacked by gunmen on its way to Trabzon airport following their 5-1 away win at Caykur Rizespor. Somehow only the driver of the bus, Ufuk Kiran, was injured and, had he not hit the brakes as quickly as he did, the entire squad and staff on board would have veered off a cliff onto the rocks below. To make matters worse last summer his car was shot at while he drove home after training. The windows of his Mercedes G63 were strong enough to stop the bullet going further and thus saved his life.
- Fatih Terim
Terim has not one but two stadiums named after him. The first is the Adana Fatih Terim Stadium. The Emperor, as he is alternatively known, is the son of a Turkish Cypriot who emigrated to Adana where he grew up. The second venue is the recently constructed Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium, despite the club having no direct link to the manager.
- Arda Turan
Not many players can say they have a street named after them, especially still during their playing career, but Arda Turan does. There is now a street called Arda Turan in the Bayrampasa district of Istanbul where he grew up. The Barcelona midfielder remains popular in the working-class area on the European side of the city and supports a number of charities and foundations in his old neighborhood.
- Mevlut Erdinc
Erdinc was born in France but will represent Turkey in Euro 2016. If the Red-Whites end up facing the hosts in the later stages he will become one of the few players to have played against the country he was born in. Oguzhan Ozyakup meanwhile was born in the Netherlands, captained them at Under-21 level and then, after switching allegiances to Turkey, scored against the Dutch in the 3-0 victory on the path to European Championship qualification
Volkan Babacan (Medipol Basaksehir)
Onur Recep Kivrak (Trabzonspor)
Harun Tekin (Bursaspor)
Gökhan Gönül (Fenerbahce)
Sener Özbayrakli (Fenerbahce)
Mehmet Topal (Fenerbahce)
Caner Erkin (Fenerbahce)
Semih Kaya (Galatasaray)
Hakan Kadir Balta (Galatasaray)
Ismail Köybasi (Besiktas)
Ahmet Yilmaz Calik (Genclerbirligi)
Selcuk Inan (Galatasaray)
Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahce)
Volkan Sen (Fenerbahce)
Oguzhan Özyakup (Besiktas)
Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund/GER)
Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen/GER)
Emre Mor (FC Nordsjaelland/DEN)
Arda Turan (FC Barcelona/ESP)
Olcay Sahan (Besiktas)
Burak Yilmaz (Beijing Guoan/CHN)
Cenk Tosun (Besiktas)
Yunus Malli (Mainz 05/GER)