Turkey aren’t being tipped as dark horses this time around, but write them off at your peril. Here, we assess their Euro 2024 chances.

Turkey is a footballing nation of extremes.

The fans are about as intense and passionate as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Just look at how the home crowd reacted when Fenerbahçe spent too long celebrating a win at rivals Trabzonspor in March this year.

This is the same league in which, late in 2023, the president of a club punched a referee in the face. A week later, another club president took his players off the pitch after his side were denied what he considered a clear penalty.

Adding José Mourinho to the mix is going to be a lot of fun.

The national team don’t do anything by half measures either. Their record at major international tournaments speaks volumes.

Euro 2024 will be Turkey’s sixth European Championship. Their last three campaigns have seen them finish third at Euro 2008 and then crash out in the group stage in their next two appearances. In between, they failed to qualify in 2012.

Their most recent appearance – Euro 2020 – saw Turkey go into the tournament tipped by some as dark horses to win it, only to lose all three of their group-stage games and end with the worst record of any team. They conceded eight goals and the only goal they scored proved nothing more than a consolation over an hour into their final game against Switzerland, following defeats to Italy and Wales.

Their Euros record is, somehow, significantly better than their World Cup record. Turkey have qualified for just one World Cup since the 1950s – in 2002 – when they made it all the way to the semi-finals and ended up finishing third. Five unsuccessful qualification campaigns have followed since.

They have made it to Euro 2024, but their qualifying campaign might have been very different.

Public feeling turned against former manager Stefan Kuntz following a poor start to qualifying that included a 2-0 home defeat to Croatia, a skin-of-their-teeth 3-2 win over 10-man Latvia thanks to a 95th-minute winner, and a 1-1 draw at home to Armenia. It doesn’t take much for Turkey’s fans to lose patience with their manager, but their displeasure with the former Germany striker seemed fair enough, even if performances weren’t exactly disastrous.

Turkey faced a crucial next game away to group-toppers and the favourites to qualify, Croatia, so the powers that be decided to act. Kuntz was replaced in September last year by Vincenzo Montella, who had spent the past two years doing a sterling job in charge of Adana Demirspor in the Turkish Süper Lig, so was well known in the country.

Montella brought with him a wave of positivity, and the team have ridden that wave ever since. Turkey won in Osijek to overtake Croatia at the top of the group, before thrashing Latvia – previously Turkey’s bogey team – and securing top spot with a hard-fought draw against a Wales side still hoping to sneak into the qualification spots. And in between the latter two of those games, Turkey secured a hugely impressive comeback victory in a friendly against Germany in Berlin.

Croatia 0-1 Turkey stats

So, with all that recent cause for optimism, can Turkey head into this summer’s tournament feeling confident that they won’t sink without trace again?

Typically for Turkey, while another third-place finish isn’t out of the question, there are also so many question marks hanging over the team that no eventuality should be written off entirely.

They do, at least, head into Euro 2024 buoyed by those recent results under Montella, as well as last week’s goalless draw with Italy, and they should fancy their chances of making it out of a group containing Portugal, Czech Republic and Georgia.

In many ways, this is a very exciting time. The squad has a nice blend of youth and experience, with 84-cap captain Hakan Çalhanoglu, fresh off the back of winning the 2023-24 Serie A title with Internazionale, bossing things from the base of midfield, while teenage stars Arda Güler, Kenan Yildiz and Semih Kiliçsoy provide genuine attacking quality and the promise of a bright future.

Çalhanoglu’s transition to defensive midfield is one of the biggest success stories from Turkish football in recent times. For years, it was impossible to work out what his best position was, and he was shunted around the front line, tested out as a winger, number 10 and a false nine, all with limited success, only to then shine brightest as the deepest midfielder.

His passing ability makes him well suited to this role. Of players to play 2,000 minutes in Serie A in the 2022-23 season, only Bologna centre-back Jhon Lucumí (93.5%) completed a higher proportion of his passes than Çalhanoglu (92.2%), and when only looking at passes in the opposition half, Çalhanoglu was still successful with 89.4% of his attempts. He was also involved in the build-up of 105 open-play shot-ending sequences this season – the fourth most of all players in Serie A. He was first for the number of such sequences he was involved in that ended in a goal (14).

He also adds goal threat, with 13 in Serie A this season. That ranked him behind only Cole Palmer (22), Phil Foden (19) and Jude Bellingham (19) among midfielders for goals scored in Europe’s top five leagues. His exemplary penalty record – 20 scored from 20 attempts in league games since 2017 – is another asset that will naturally be useful at an international tournament.

With other central midfield options including Salih Özcan of Borussia Dortmund, Orkun Kökçü of Benfica and Fenerbahçe’s Ismail Yüksek – who has had a brilliant season and has been included in the final squad despite recent injury concerns – Turkey are very well stocked in the middle of the park. There is a slight concern that they have too many similar players in there, and their distribution will be key to getting the ball safely to Turkey’s attackers. They have plenty of attacking talent in their ranks, too.

There is rightly a great deal of excitement over Güler, the poster boy for Turkey’s future, although he hasn’t been given much international game time simply because he hasn’t played much at club level. The 19-year-old moved to Real Madrid last summer and was made to wait until January for his debut, but fans will have been delighted to see him play so much – and so well – in the season’s final few weeks.

He started four La Liga games and added six more brief substitute appearances in the last few months, and racked up an impressive return of six goals. Of every player to score more than one goal in Europe’s top five leagues in 2023-24, Güler averaged the fewest minutes per goal (62.2), while his six goals came from just 1.4 expected goals (xG). He will come into this summer’s tournament bursting with confidence, which should mean he gets ample opportunities to play.

Arda Güler xg map 2023-24

Kerem Aktürkoglu – who might be remembered by Manchester United fans for his sucker punch of an equaliser in the 3-3 draw with Galatasaray in November – is another exciting attacking option on the left flank. In the Süper Lig this season, Aktürkoglu ranked in the top 10 players for goals (12), expected goals (12.8), chances created (71), expected assists (7.7), big chances created (14) and chances created from open play (46). Irfan Kahveci and Yunus Akgün, who spent the season on loan at Leicester, are other good options out wide.

Kerem Akturkoglu chances created Super Lig 2023-24

Marauding Fenerbahçe full-back, Ferdi Kadioglu, meanwhile, is one to watch at the tournament, and may well be being watched by some of Europe’s bigger clubs. Able to play either on the left or the right, he is another Turkey player who is set for a bright future.

There is, however, rather less certainty than is ideal in a couple of key positions in the Turkey team – something that wasn’t helped by Montella using Turkey’s recent friendlies against Hungary and Austria to experiment all over the pitch. Turkey lost both games and were left with far more questions than answers.

Up front, they have struggled for years to replace legendary forward Burak Yilmaz, the second-highest scorer in the country’s history (31 goals) who retired from international football a couple of years ago, and the identity of their centre-forward for Euro 2024 is far from decided.

Enes Ünal, who spent the second half of this season on loan at Bournemouth, and former Leicester City man Cengiz Ünder, have both been ruled out of the competition through injury, and neither was a reliable goalscorer anyway. There remains the possibility that Everton flop Cenk Tosun – now 32 – leads the line at the Euros despite struggling to hold down a starting spot at Besiktas. He scored just six goals in 21 starts and 12 sub appearances in the league this season.

There are young options up front, too, but it’s unlikely they will start. Kenan Yildiz, 19, broke into the Juventus team this season, hitting four goals in all competitions from just 2.7 xG, and also scored in Turkey’s aforementioned 3-2 win over Germany, and is a good option from the bench.

kenan yildiz xg map

The 18-year-old Semih Kiliçsoy only made his international debut off the bench against Italy last week, but well thought of in his home country. He ended the season as Besiktas’ top scorer with 11 goals in just 20 Süper Lig starts. There have been calls for him to be thrown in at the deep end, but that seems unlikely.

Baris Alper Yilmaz started against Italy but has only one goal in 14 international caps and isn’t a natural goalscorer, while 22-year-old Bertug Yildirim has two goals in three games for Turkey but barely played (455 minutes) and didn’t score a single goal in Ligue 1 for Rennes this season.

Concerningly for Turkey, there is also uncertainty both at centre-back and in goal.

In central defence Çaglar Söyüncü has been ruled out with injury, and while Merih Demiral is an experienced option to partner Abdülkerim Bardakci, he moved to Saudi Arabia last year where the quality of opposition won’t be as high as he would face at the Euros. Ozan Kabak, formerly of Liverpool and now at Hoffenheim, looked like he might turn out to be the best option but then he did his ACL against Italy.

Between the sticks, there’s been a space that has needed filling for a while, but none of the options have been able to grab hold of it. Altay Bayindir may have scuppered his chances by moving to Man Utd because he has barely played all season (though he did start against Italy), while Uğurcan Çakir hasn’t had the most convincing season with Trabzonspor, but may still hold off the challenge of the equally uninspiring Mert Günok of Besiktas.

This feeling of uncertainty wasn’t helped during the March international break when Montella decided to try out some new options in Turkey’s two games. Eyebrows were raised when they fell to a 1-0 defeat in Hungary, and those expressions turned to outright consternation when Turkey were thrashed 6-1 by Austria a few days later.

Austria 6-1 Turkey stats

The hope will be that Montella learned some valuable lessons in those games and won’t make the same mistakes at the Euros. The draw with Italy suggests he might well have done.

But there will be some fans – and they can be an impatient bunch – who are starting to feel rather less confident heading into the summer.

It all means Turkey approach Euro 2024 with a typical air of unpredictability hanging over them, but also plenty of reason to believe this could be one of their more successful appearances at a major international tournament.

As is always the case with Turkey, anything could happen.

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