Euro 2021: Defensively solid and with goal-scorers galore, Turkey could be tournament's dark horse

The pandemic came at a good time for Turkey. Last year, they were heading into the tournament with many key players out injured.

The Turkey Euro 2021 squad strike a pose before flying out, Image credit: Twitter/Milli Takımlar

Turkey cruised through their Euro 2020 qualifiers, finishing second in their group behind World Champions France. Senol Gunes’ side took four points off the world champions and only narrowly missed out on the top spot. It was the defence that stood out in qualifying, conceding only three times and keeping eight clean sheets.

Turkey have managed to turn their biggest weakness into their biggest strength. They enter the Euros with arguably their strongest side since the 2002 World Cup, when they finished third (under Gunes). “I want to finish the group in first place,” he said after the draw pitted his side in Group A with Italy, Wales and Switzerland.


Caglar Soyuncu pretty much sums up this new Turkey side, with the Leicester defender a rock in the heart of the back four. There are options to fiddle with for Gunes.

Juventus’s Merih Demiral is a rugged 6’2″ man mountain, the type who will be seen doing fist pumps after a perfectly timed sliding tackle.

At right-back Mehmet Zeki Celik has been brilliant at Lille, winning the French League title this season. Ozan Kabak made a good impression at Liverpool before getting injured.

Then there are options in Mert Muldur, Ridvan Yilmaz and Kaan Ayhan in what is a very young defence. Soyuncu is the most experienced of the likely starters at 25.

The only weakness could be at left-back, where Gunes does not have strength in depth, but Umut Meras and Ridvan Yilmaz, who is 20, could make a name for themselves this summer.


Okay Yokuslu spent last season on loan at West Brom from Celta Vigo. He is an unsung hero in defensive midfield, along with box to box pocket dynamo Ozan Tufan by his side.

Yusuf Yazici brilliant breakthrough season at Lille will be tasked with providing attacking flair but will face competition from Milan’s Hakan Calhanoglu. Kenan Karaman and Cengiz Under will also be battling it out for the midfield spots.


In attack, Burak Yilmaz has been ageing like fine wine. The in form striker could not stop scoring for Lille this season. “Burak is still learning every single day, he is a great example to the younger players,” Gunes says.

Turkey are going to be difficult to break down and pack a punch going forward. With the experiance of Yilmaz and the energy of these young strikers, it will be interesting to see how Turkey go about their attack.


Senol Gunes cemented his hero status in 2002, when he steered Turkey to third place at the World Cup. That side is remembered as the golden generation, but it looks like Gunes may have created something equally exciting this time.

Gunes qualified as a teacher before entering the world of football. He used to work at a village school on a mountain top in Trabzon, on Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast. His teachings have potentially made Turkey are potentially the dark horses.


The postponement was a blessing in disguise for Turkey because Merih Demiral, Yusuf Yazici and Ozan Kabak had all been ruled out of last summer’s tournament through injury.

The star trio have recovered and enjoyed impressive seasons with their clubs, although Kabak has been injured again of late. The squad is undoubtedly far stronger than it would have been 12 months ago.


Goalkeepers: Altay Bayindir (Fenerbahce), Fehmi Mert Gunok (Medipol Basaksehir), Ugurcan Cakir (Trabzonspor)

Defenders: Mehmet Zeki Celik (Lille), Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester), Kaan Ayhan (Sassuolo), Merih Demiral (Juventus). Mert Muldur (Sassuolo), Ozan Muhammed Kabak (Liverpool), Rıdvan Yılmaz (Besiktas), Cengiz Umut Meras (Le Havre)

Midfielders: Yusuf Yazici (Lille), Dorukhan Tokoz (Besiktas), Irfan Can Kahveci (Fenerbahce), Okay Yokuslu (WBA), Orkun Kokcu(Feyenoord), Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahce), Taylan Antalya (Galatasaray), Hakan Calhanoglu (Milan)

Forwards: Burak Yilmaz (Lille), Cengiz Under (Leicester), Enes Unal (Getafe). Efecan Karaca (Alanyaspor), Abdulkadir Omur (Trabzonspor), Muhammed Kerem Akturkoglu (Galatasaray), Halil İbrahim Dervisoglu (Galatasaray), Kenan Karaman (Fortuna Dusseldorf)

Amruth Kalidas

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