Football predictions are rarely straightforward. Quite often pundits, fans and commentators can be made to look silly when something unexpected occurs that nobody could have seen coming in their wildest dreams.
Euro 2020 has seemingly thrown up an almost inverse version of this, where many people have instead tried to make a call over something surprising happening and been left with egg on their face.
Search the words ‘Turkey’ and ‘dark horse’ and you’re today likely to encounter a lot of mockery over the idea that for many, they would be the surprise package of this year’s competition.
World Cup Qualification UEFA
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Two weeks ago however, this was certainly not the case as Senol Gunes’ team were widely tipped to emerge from their group and even make the latter rounds.
Instead, they return home with an embarrassing three defeats from three, conceding seven and Irfan Kahveci’s consolation against Switzerland the only goal to their name.
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None of this is down to bad luck either, with Turkey looking second best in all three matches, not even remotely justifying the view they could make a meaningful impression.
But why were so many people enthused by their prospects? What was it that convinced people that they were potentially looking at a side capable of repeating their heroics of 2008, when they shocked the world by reaching the last four of the Euros, as well as their unexpected run to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2002?
Part of this unfounded optimism begins with looking at how they reached the finals. Turkey qualified fairly comfortably, finishing two points behind France in their group and even celebrated a 2-0 victory over the world champions along the way, as well as a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture.
Gunes’ side conceded just three times in their ten games and looked far tougher to break down than they have been in the tournament.
Recent impressive wins in World Cup qualifiers over Netherlands and Norway also raised expectations as the team arrived with the youngest squad in the competition with an average age of just 24 and a half years old - an average that would have been even younger but for the inclusion of 35-year-old Burak Yilmaz leading the line.
Yilmaz struggled throughout the tournament
Image credit: Getty Images
This was supposed to be an energetic young side containing the likes of Cengiz Under, Merih Demiral and Ozan Kabak, sprinkled with the established stars Caglar Soyuncu, Hakan Calhanoglu and of course Yilmaz.
The ageing striker had come off a fine season in Ligue 1, scoring 16 times as he helped Lille win the title in unlikely circumstances.
In the dugout, Gunes was also the man in charge for that semi-final run in Japan and South Korea 19 years earlier and was certainly expected to use his years of experience to navigate his team through the competition this time around.
The group looked manageable too. Before the tournament, Italy were perhaps not expected to perform as well as they have so far, Switzerland have often flattered to deceive on the big stage and Wales were undoubtedly considered outsiders.
Unfortunately, after adopting an overly cautious approach in the opener against Italy, a refusal to press their opponents saw Turkey duly punished as the Azzurri ran out 3-0 winners.
Against Wales, they showed a bit more adventure but failed to do anything to stop Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey freely running through them as they went down 2-0.
The 3-1 defeat to the Swiss fully exposed their failings.
Yilmaz looked every one of his 35 years as he toiled up front, Soyuncu was a man exhausted after a gruelling campaign with Leicester City and Calhanoglu was just disappointing overall.
Senol Gunes will need to rethink his strategy with Turkey going forwards
Image credit: Getty Images
Turkey return home humiliated, as does everyone who predicted they would go far in this tournament.
If there is any consolation for the team, should they stay together, this can be used as a learning experience and come the World Cup, should they qualify, will be better placed to do well.
They are also unlikely to be burdened with the tag of ‘dark horses’ again, as we too would have learned a harsh lesson about inflicting that on them.
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