Turkey stars under fire after “shameful” Euro opening

Players are being criticised by fans and pundits after 1-0 defeat to Croatia

14 June ~ A week before the Euros kicked off, Turkey’s manager Fatih Terim tried to lower fans’ expectations. He declared that a draw against Croatia would be a great start to the tournament, and noted that should Croatia qualify for the knockout stages they would go very far in the tournament. By the looks of pre-game commentary on social and other forms of media, he was successful.

An overwhelming majority of fans and commentators agreed that adopting a controlled approach to the game, and prioritising a clean sheet over scoring, was the best option for Terim. Many also noted that as Turkish players were known more for their fighting spirit than their talent on the ball, such a game plan would actually play to their strengths. However, as early as ten minutes into the game, Turkey’s many weaknesses became apparent to fans who were not shy about voicing them over social media.

Turkey’s defence looked very shaky, with both full-backs unable to cope with the pace of Croatian wingers. Mehmet Topal (originally a midfielder) looked lost in his own box every time the Croatians hovered around the penalty area. Midfielders Selcuk Inan and Ozan Tufan were exposed for their lack of pace and creative thinking and wingers Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu (on whom almost all expectations were built) looked more interested in personal glory than in contributing to team play.

Terim’s changes (including bravely taking off Arda) did not pay off and most Turkish fans gave a sigh of relief when the game ended merely 1-0. It could have easily have been four or five had Croatia not hit the crossbar – which a Turkish fan on Twitter called the “man of the match for Turkey” – three times.

Turkish fans and sports journalists responded to the loss with anger. During the second half of the game and immediately after the final whistle many expressed their shock at how slow the Turkish players looked on the pitch, and argued that the lack of urgency was the main cause of what many called a “shameful defeat”. “They lack the will to fight, the team spirit that brought us our previous victories” argued many, singling out Ozan and Arda.

The former was caught on camera fixing his hair a few metres away from Luka Modric right before the Madrid star scored the game’s only goal. Arda, some fans argued, “looked exhausted having acted in so many commercials instead of training properly”. Even Terim, who rarely criticises his players publicly, was unapologetic in the post-match press conference, noting that: “We didn’t fight in the second half. I expected so much more fight from my players”.

What also angered many was that the “Croatian stars” – such as Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic – who are more famous than their Turkish counterparts, worked tirelessly on the pitch while the “Turkish stars” were “napping”. One fan wrote on Twitter that despite “losing three kilos of blood due to his head injury”, Vedran Corluka ran more than the Turkish midfielders combined.

The disappointment and anger felt by many fans was perhaps summarised best by a member of the Turkey’s team that reached the World Cup semis in 2002, Hakan Unsal: “Losing to Croatia is not a big problem. But the manner in which we lost is indeed shameful.” Many current players agreed. As was Arda, who was the first to admit he had a horrible day on the pitch, saying: “We need to do much better against Spain… we need to play like a team who has fight left in it.” If they don’t, the final group game group against Czech Republic might end up being a mere formality. Bora Isyar