Turkey miraculously makes its way to Euro 2016 finals

Turkey miraculously makes its way to Euro 2016 finals

Turkey miraculously makes its way to Euro 2016 finals

AFP photo

Once on the verge of total humiliation in its qualification campaign, Turkey’s national football team has managed to earn a direct ticket to the 2016 European Championship finals in France next summer.

But the ticket did not come easy. Turkish fans had to wait until the last minute for a winner against visiting Iceland in Konya, while Kazakhstan’s victory at Latvia ensured that the Turks finish the campaign as the best third-placed team in qualification.

Selçuk İnan was the hero of the night for Turkey after scoring from a 25-meter free kick in the 89th minute, shortly after the host was left with 10 men after midfielder Gökhan Töre was shown a straight red card in the 77th minute for a shocking challenge on Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.

Turkey finished the campaign on 18 points ahead of the Netherlands on 13 points, after the Dutch suffered a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic, which topped Group A with 22 points, two ahead of Iceland. The Turks edged Hungary for the best third-place finish. 

“As a country we really needed this win to feel happy, even for a few hours maybe. We are so happy to have offered some happiness to our people,” said coach Fatih Terim after the match. 

He was referring to last weekend’s bombing in the capital Ankara that killed at least 97 people. 

“We have a younger team now, and it’s making us even more proud that this young bunch achieved this,” he added, saying that Turkey will go to Euro 2016 with an even younger squad.

Delighted Turkey captain and midfielder Arda Turan, who moved to La Liga giant Barcelona in the summer transfer window, said: “We made such a poor start to the group. But we believed, we fought, and we succeeded. We are so delighted not to have disappointed our people, who never gave up on us.” 

Bayern Leverkusen’s 21-year-old midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu, who has stepped up his game for Turkey in recent matches, also said he was delighted to have advanced.

“We all had our mobile phones with us and looked for the Kazakhstan result and waited until their game was finished,” Çalhanoğlu said. “I had to hold back the tears. This is the first time I will take part in [a major tournament] as a Turkey player. I am really proud of my team and my country.”

Turkey chances of a place in France seemed slim after the first seven games of the 10-match campaign in Group A, having won only two – both against Kazakhstan – and drawing three matches. But Terim’s men changed shift in the last three games, starting with a 3-0 home victory over the Netherlands on Sept. 6, followed by a 2-0 win at the Czech Republic on Oct. 10 and Oct. 13’s triumph against Iceland.

“After the Latvia game [Turkey’s seventh group game that ended in 1-1 draw] we said, ‘It isn’t over until we say it’s over.’ It is easy to say that now, but it was not so easy back then,” Terim said.

Turan, who scored two goals and set up three in the last five games, acknowledged the pressure that he and his teammates faced.

“We played six games with a noose around our necks. It was not easy at all,” he said.