Turkey coach Lucescu faces pressure ahead of crucial Ukraine match
ISTANBULTurkish national football team, under a new coach amid debate over the squad selection, visits Ukraine on Sept. 2 to keep its slim chances of advancing to the 2018 World Cup alive.
Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu took helm of the national team following Fatih Terim’s departure last month, and his player choices have been the top subject heading to his debut match.
The debate especially focused on two decisions: The inclusion of Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan in the squad and the initial exclusion of Beşiktaş midfielder Oğuzhan Özyakup.
Turan announced in May his decision to retire from international football, right after he was kicked out of the squad following his verbal and physical attack on a veteran journalist on the team plane.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Lucescu said when asked about Turan’s return to the team.
“You can see a young player lose his mind at times. He told me he was sorry, and considering his contributions to Turkish football, Arda deserves to be forgiven,” he told reporters.
Beşiktaş’s on-form player Özyakup was not included in the initial squad, creating an uproar in the media, and was added to the list this week.
“Only someone stupid does not change his mind,” Lucescu said when asked about the incident.
“I had not liked what I saw in the first three league games, but then I watched Oğuzhan in last weekend’s game, and saw something different. I talked to him, told him I wanted to see him in the squad and said it was up to him [to come or not]. What matters in life is not to repeat your mistakes, there are no problems [between him and the player] now,” he said.
Already feeling the pressure, Lucescu has a daunting task of leading Turkey to next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Having made a dreadful start to its campaign, Turkey won its last three games.
However, those wins came against Finland and Kosovo (twice), whose sole point each came in a 1-1 draw in their match. With 11 points so far, Turkey is in third spot, ahead of Ukraine on goal difference.
The results of the game at Ukraine and home game against Croatia on Sept. 5, will be decisive in Turkey’s campaign.
“The first two games are crucial, that is why I brought in the best, most experienced players who can give it all,” said Lucescu, adding that there was not much possibility of giving young guns a chance since the clock is ticking for Turkey’s chances of qualification.
Having coached Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk for 14 seasons until 2016, the Romanian coach said he is no stranger to Ukrainian football.
“We have an advantage, we know them and they don’t know us,” said the 72-year-old.
“We will play against a very well organized team, better prepared physically. They are a good team, but they will play against Turkey. One refereeing decision, one simple mistake can change the outcome of the game, but we will do our best to win,” he said.
In other games in Group I on Sept. 2, group leader Croatia hosts Kosovo, while second-placed Iceland travels to Finland.