Turkey reap rewards of grass-roots revolution

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The Independent Online

With one leap and a couple of controversial blows on the whistle, Asia has usurped Africa as the centre of football's new world. South Korea sweep on; Senegal self-destruct in much the same way that Cameroon did 12 years ago and, caught in the middle, pincered as ever by the cultural forces of east and west, lies the oddball footballing country which might yet lift this World Cup.

With one leap and a couple of controversial blows on the whistle, Asia has usurped Africa as the centre of football's new world. South Korea sweep on; Senegal self-destruct in much the same way that Cameroon did 12 years ago and, caught in the middle, pincered as ever by the cultural forces of east and west, lies the oddball footballing country which might yet lift this World Cup.

In its way, the rise of Turkish football has been as remarkable as that of both Asia and Africa. Not that long ago, the Turks were Europe's regular fall guys, always talented and passionate, but temperamentally impossible.

Television revenue, a restructuring of the youth system, investment in grass pitches by the major clubs and a concerted attempt at integration, with more players going abroad to further their education, has been at the heart of Turkey's footballing revolution. The raw material was never in doubt, merely the application and development of it. Foreign coaches, led by the former German national coach, Jupp Derwall, brought a sense of order to the natural skills learnt once on dusty streets and now transferred to carpeted five-a-side pitches laid down in every spare corner of the towns and cities. Turkey's style, neat, quick, intricate, reflects this short-sided culture, but it has taken two decades and much frustration before a Turkish side has managed to adapt effectively to the demands of a major tournament.

Turkey have benefited too from the active recruitment of German-born players, a shift of policy which has required some radical rethinking within the notoriously nationalistic corridors of the Turkish Football Federation. Yildiray Basturk, the most conspicuous and the most talented of the new generation, was born and brought up in Bochum. He speaks Turkish, not fluently, but rather better than Muzzy Izzet, who is perhaps the most striking example of Turkey's recent willingness to open its borders. Umit Davala, the cultured right-wing-back who scored the winner against Japan and provided the cross for the golden goal in the quarter-final, numbers English, German, Italian and Turkish among his languages. His upbringing is German, so is the source of his spectacular Mohican haircut, sculpted from an original idea by Christian Ziege.

This cultural mix does not always promote easy relationships within the squad. Earlier in the tournament, Hakan Sukur accused his midfielders of being more concerned with making a name for themselves than providing their main striker with some decent service. The criticism sparked off dissent within the camp and caused Hakan to lose confidence so dramatically that he might lose his place for the semi-final.

Hakan's authority within the team is already on the wane. Against Senegal, the captain suffered the almost unthinkable indignity of being substituted after a mere 67 minutes, his misery at missing a series of chances in the first half compounded by the spectacularly decisive strike of his replacement, Ilhan Mansiz, another of the German-born contingent.

Ilhan was persuaded to return to Turkey as a 20-year-old by his parents only to flee straight back to his true home in the Bavarian town of Kempten after a few unhappy months. "I found it too difficult to adapt to the culture," he said. Now, the coach, Senol Gunes, has the unenviable task of deciding whether to start the 26-year-old Besiktas striker for the first time in the national team or keep faith with the clearly out of form Hakan.

Turkey have not forgotten Rivaldo's play-acting in their group game which caused Hakan Unsal, who will miss tomorrow's game with an ankle injury, to be dismissed by the South Korean referee following Alpay Ozalan's earlier red card. At the time, it seemed that the Turks had imploded once again. But they have regrouped and are smarting from several perceived injustices.

"Some coaches see us a surprise team, but that's not how we see ourselves," says Umit. "We are a team for hard times," adds Alpay menacingly. Tomorrow night, in the company of Rivaldo and Ronaldo once again, they will need to be.

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