Furore fuels Turkey optimism

They were not rubbing their hands with glee, but an air of quiet optimism swept over the Turkey squad yesterday as reports came through of the turmoil that has engulfed the England players after Rio Ferdinand's banishment from Saturday's decisive European Championship qualifier.

The Turkey coach, Senol Gunes, said that England's woes had played into his team's hands. "If they have troubles or low morale we are delighted about that, because we want them to come on to the pitch in a negative mood. But we have no intention of contributing to this negativity. We only have one thought and that's to go on the field and win," Gunes said at a laid-back picnic with his players and their families.

Newspapers carried Ferdinand's ordeal on their front pages. "Turmoil!" ran the banner headline in the sports daily Fanatik. "England in Drugs Shock!" said the top-selling daily Hurriyet.

The striker Hakan Sukur, whose return to fitness after a knee injury has further added to the sense of optimism in the Turkey camp, agreed that Ferdinand's absence has dealt his side a lucky card. "Ferdy is very dangerous in the air, almost impossible to beat when on form," he said. "Without him in the England team we are much more comfortable."

For Turkey, victory would mean more than just an automatic qualifying place for Euro 2004. "By beating England, we will prove that we are a world-class team," Gunes said.

The Turkish squad has grown in confidence since last year's surprise semi-final appearance at the World Cup, but they are still nervous. The walls of the training camp where they have been sequestered since Monday have been plastered with posters of their achievement at the World Cup and upbeat slogans such as, "You did it then. You can do it again!"

As the England players threatened their boycott, the 23-strong Turkish squad were a picture of calm, relaxing with their families in the sun at a barbecue picnic in a leafy retreat on the shores of Istanbul.

"Who cares?" the midfielder Sergen Yalcin said. "If they don't come, that's better for us because we'll get three points without getting tired."

The Turkey captain, Bulent Korkmaz, commented: "We are not interested in what is happening there. The important thing is what we do on the pitch. If we play as a team, which I believe we will, we'll have the last laugh."

The Turkish media also rejoiced over the appointment of the Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina, for Saturday's match, pointing out that Turkish teams have always won the games in which he has officiated.

The players, however, downplayed the significance of the appointment. "It's not like Collina's going to score for us," the striker, Ilhan Mansiz, said. "It's all about the football."

Gunes has been tight-lipped about his game plan. He met directors of Besiktas earlier this week for a briefing on Chelsea's England trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, the Turkish side having beaten Claudio Ranieri's team 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Champions' League last week.

Comments