Turkey waits for its play-off opponent before Euro 2012
Turkish national football team players rush to celebrate Burak Yılmaz (R) who scored the winner against Azerbaijan in the crucial Euro 2012 qualifying game. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL
Turkey managed to bounce back from a bitter 3-1 defeat to mighty Germany and went on to beat Azerbaijan at Türk Telekom Arena in Istanbul. With the victory, Turkey punched the ticket to the Euro 2012 playoffs and will now learn which team it has to take on, in order to win a berth at the top continental tournament.
Turkey will learn the identity of the last team standing in its way of a place at Euro 2012 during a play-off draw today.
The national football team beat Azerbaijan 1-0 to clinch second spot in Group A behind Germany, who beat Belgium 3-1 in the last round of qualifiers on Oct. 11.
A Euro 2008 semifinalist, Turkey was left unseeded for today’s draw along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia and Montenegro, teams which have never reached the finals of a major tournament. Those four will be paired with the draw’s seeds: Portugal, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Ireland.
UEFA confirmed the seeding of the group runner-ups 24 hours ahead of the draw in Krakow, Poland. UEFA based the rankings on qualifying and tournament results from Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
First-leg matches will be played Nov. 11 or 12 while the return legs are scheduled for Nov. 15.
The winners will advance to the tournament to be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine from June 8 to July 1. The tournament will be the last with 16 teams; from 2016 on, 24 nations will take part.
Turkey, coached by Dutch great Guus Hiddink, who led Russia to the 2008 semifinals, will be viewed as the unseeded opponent to avoid.
The Turks made a dramatic run to the Euro 2008 semifinals after getting two late goals in a 3-2 win over the Czechs to advance from their group. Turkey also beat Croatia in the quarterfinals.
However, a trio of underdogs who gained football independence after the fall of communism will sense that history is beckoning them.
Montenegro is ranked 35th in UEFA’s 53-nation standings despite not being allowed to enter Euro 2008.
After splitting from Serbia in 2006, Montenegro was recognized as the 208th and newest member of world football’s family too late to take part.
Montenegro earned home and away draws with England while finishing second in a group that included tournament regulars Switzerland.
Estonia failed in two attempts to qualify for the World Cup in the 1930s, then regained football status in 1992 after declaring independence from the Soviet Union.
The Baltic republic is the lowest-ranked team remaining at no. 37 in UEFA’s European standings.
Turkey secured a place in the Euro 2012 playoffs after a Burak Yılmaz second-half goal earned Hiddink’s side a 1-0 win over Azerbaijan.
The Trabzonspor striker fired the ball into the net in the 60th minute after a long through ball by substitute Selçuk İnan sent him clear.
“I think it’s a compliment for the team in a very difficult season in Turkish football to have accomplished the playoffs,” the Dutch manager said of Turkey’s performance.
“Azerbaijan played extremely defensively so we had difficulty in finding many chances,” Yılmaz said. “We suffered a lack of confidence after the Germany game, but it’s important what our team does rather than other teams. We want to participate in Euro 2012 really badly and it doesn’t matter who we face in the playoffs now, we will do our best.”
Hiddink said the team would continue to prepare for the playoffs.
“Hopefully the players are getting better and better ... we will watch them closely in the upcoming weeks, in Turkey and outside Turkey, and we’ll see to make a very competitive team for the upcoming difficult games,” said Hiddink