Turkey coach Şenol Güneş is hoping to spring another surprise.
Güneş led his country’s national team to its greatest soccer achievement nearly 20 years ago — a third-place finish at the 2002 World Cup.
He returned to the helm in 2019 after a 15-year absence, helping Turkey qualify for this year’s European Championship.
The Turks surprisingly took four points off France in qualifying, including a 2-0 win over the World Cup champions, and lost only one of their matches to finish second in the group.
At Euro 2020, Turkey will play Italy in Rome in the tournament’s opening match.
“Being in this tournament and playing in the opening match makes us proud,” Güneş said. “In every opening game there are surprises and I hope we can also spring one.”
Turkey will also face Wales and Switzerland in Group A. Both of those matches will be played at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, which will allow 50% of its normal capacity.
There are strong links between Turkey and Azerbaijan. So even though Turkey is not hosting any of the matches in the multi-city format, it will still enjoy something of a home advantage.
After its strong showing in qualifying for Euro 2020, Turkey struggled in the Nations League as Güneş tinkered with his team, experimenting with different lineups. But Turkey has made a strong start to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, beating the Netherlands 4-2 in March before a 3-0 win over Norway and 3-3 draw against Latvia.
Veteran forward Burak Yılmaz netted a hat trick against the Netherlands. The 35-year-old Yılmaz is Turkey’s second highest scorer of all time, with his 28 goals putting him behind only the now-retired Hakan Şükür.
Yılmaz has also been in excellent form for Lille since his move from Besiktas last year, helping the team win the French league title.
As captain, Yılmaz is also the focal point for the exciting new generation of Turkey players and he continues to inspire them with his determination and steely will to win.
Turkey has plenty of young talents and the one-year delay could have given them the time they need to develop further.
“If we do not count Burak and a couple of others, we could say that we are quite a young team, perhaps the youngest Turkish team that has participated in a tournament,” Güneş said. “Our players are young but they are trying to play well. They are gaining experience. We have seen good days and have got some confidence from the results that we have achieved.”
One of Turkey’s main strengths is its solidity at the back. It allowed only three goals in qualifying for the European Championship and also managed to keep forwards Memphis Depay and Erling Haaland silent in recent World Cup qualifiers.
“We have great defenders and so fear no one,” Yılmaz said. “We’ve never been afraid of anyone.”