Turkey aims for World Cup berth via playoffs

Turkey aims for World Cup berth via playoffs

Turkey aims for World Cup berth via playoffs

Turkey will take on Portugal on March 24 in a World Cup qualifying playoff game, seeking its just third-ever appearance at the world football’s showpiece event.

Stefan Kuntz, who replaced Şenol Güneş as Turkey’s coach last September, saw his side draw with Norway in his first match, but has led it to three victories since.

Heading to a tough game against Portugal, the German sounded confident.

“I would like to say that we will put on a performance that the Turkish people will be proud of; they will see our determination to win and support the team with enthusiasm,” he said midweek.

The 59-year-old said they analyzed Portugal well, adding that what matters most is “what we will do and how we can show our best performance.”

If Turkey wins a spot in the November-December tournament in Qatar, it will be the country’s third appearance in the World Cup finals, following 1954 Switzerland and 2022 South Korea-Japan, in which it finished in third place.

Portugal will be relying on Cristiano Ronaldo, who broke the world record for international goals during the qualifying campaign and now has 115 to his name.

The Manchester United star will be 41 come 2026, so Qatar represents his last chance to win the World Cup. Missing out altogether is unthinkable for the player.

“We know the road will not be easy, and we have full respect for our opponents, who share the same objective as us. But together, we will fight to take Portugal where we belong,” Ronaldo posted on Instagram this week.

The winner of the clash will next play either Italy or North Macedonia on March 29.

Kuntz is aware of the danger Ronaldo poses for his opponents and says his side will be ready for the challenge.

“Man-to-man marking is one way to defend Ronaldo, but our plan is more about team defense,” he said.

“We have to prevent the passing to Ronaldo, try to prevent him from staying one-on-one.”

Portugal will be missing its two first-choice defenders: Manchester City’s Ruben Dias succumbed to injury before 39-year-old veteran Pepe tested positive for the coronavirus.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has described the coming days as the “most important challenge of my time in charge.”

“It’s simple: We need to win, nothing else matters,” Santos told a news conference.

“This is the most important challenge I had as Portugal manager. Not the most difficult, the most important. We must be in the World Cup for our people. The tickets were sold out in minutes more than a month ago. Our fans will be a major factor, and we cannot let them down.”

Three World Cup berths from Europe remain up for grabs, with 10 teams led by holder France having already qualified.

The playoffs were meant to feature 12 teams, split into three separate paths, but they have been impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with both of those countries initially due to take part.

The 2018 World Cup host Russia was excluded after being suspended by FIFA and UEFA until further notice.

That meant Poland getting a walkover to a final against either 2018 quarterfinalist Sweden or the Czech Republic, which meet in Solna on March 24.

Ukraine was due to face Scotland in Glasgow, but that match has been postponed until June.

Therefore, whichever side wins March 24’s clash between Wales and Austria in Cardiff will also have to wait until June for its playoff final.