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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Turkish National Team Off To Flying Start In Euro 2012 Qualifying

A new era started for the Turkish national team on August 1st of this year. It was the day when highly regarded coach Guus Hiddink would officially begin his duties as head coach of the Turkish national football team. Many were looking forward to how Hiddink would handle being a national team coach in a country where emotions run high and expectations are great. After the disappointment of not making the World Cup in 2010, the Turkish national team would have to begin from scratch as they looked to qualify for European championship in 2012. While winning against Romania in August, that match was only a friendly, and the national team got their first real tests in games that matter this past Friday and Tuesday, against Kazakhstan and Belgium respectively.

The first match for the Turkish national team happened this past Friday, as the team flew to Astana to face Kazakhstan. While not the most glamorous opponent to start off, Kazakhstan would not let the Turks take it easy. But Turkey got the goal scoring started in the 24th minute. A pass through the air into the penalty box was headed towards goal by Omer Erdogan, who made his first international start for Turkey. The ball came off the post, but Arda Turan was in front of the goal and and tapped the ball into the net. Two minutes later, Hamit Altintop scored off a volley from a corner. It was considered one of the best goals of the night in all of the qualifiers. With Turkey going into the halftime break up 2-0, it seemed as though the Turks would cruise through to victory. Kazakhstan did give Turkey some trouble during the second half. However, Nihat Kahveci would score in the 76th minute to make the final score 3-0.

The real test of Turkey under Guus Hiddink would come in their home match against Belgium this past Tuesday, which took place at the Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium in Istanbul's Kadikoy district. History was against the Turkish national team here, as the last two times they played against Belgium, they drew and lost. Both of these matches came in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, with the draw coming in the second match of the campaign and the loss coming in the second to last match of the qualifying round. While Kazakhstan isn't a formidable opponent, Belgium has been a thorn in the side of the Turkish national team in recent memory. This match would either provide Turkey with a spark going into the October clash against Germany, or provide the Turks with another Belgian jinx.

The match itself had fireworks before and during the match. Eden Hazard, one of the star players for the Belgian national team, would not be in the starting lineup due to injury. The match went back and forth, with captivating football being played from both teams. In the 28th minute, Belgium would take the lead through Daniel Van Buyten, heading a ball home from a corner taken by Toby Alderweireld. The halftime score saw Belgium up 1-0 and Turkish fans wondering if history would be repeating itself. Three minutes after the second half kicked off, Turkey responded. Ismail Koybasi attacked from the left flank, and his pass would eventually find Hamit Altintop. Altintop's first shot was saved, but he put in the rebound to tie the match at one goal apiece. In the 64th minute, Vincent Kompany picked up his second yellow card with a harsh foul on Hamit Altintop, leaving Belgium to play with 10 men for the rest of the match. His first yellow came in the first half with a foul on Tuncay Sanli. In the 66th minute, Hamit Altintop's through ball found Semih Senturk alone on front of the goal, and Senturk converted the chance to a goal to put Turkey in the lead 2-1. Belgium would answer back two minutes later. Van Buyten headed the ball into the net after Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak came off his line to try and clear a Belgium free kick from Kevin Mirallas. Romelu Lukaku headed the ball toward Van Buyten and Van Buyten put the ball into the empty net. In the 78th minute, Gokhan Gonul's cross found Arda Turan, and Turan scored with a shot taken close to the penalty spot to put Turkey up 3-2. Turan's shot took a defelection off Marouane Fellaini and ended up in the goal to send the stadium into bedlam. Belgium had one last ditch effort in stoppage time, but Turkey went on to win 3-2, winning two straight matches to get their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign off to a flying start.

The Turkish national team and their fans are relieved to see two straight victories to start off. But a tremendous test will be against Germany in Berlin. It will be interesting to see Mesut Ozil, the celebrated German player of Turkish descent, playing against Turkey. Also of Turkish descent playing on the national team is Serdar Tasci, a very capable central defender. Even with Ozil and Tasci, the German team is exceptionally strong, with names such as Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, and Thomas Muller. It will especially be interesting to see the crowd makeup for this match, as Turks comprised the largest minority in Germany. For now though, Turkey will be relieved that they have achieved maximum points so far.

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