Istanbul, the capital city of Turkey, is commonly known as “The City on Seven Hills” – and Fatih Terim’s charges now face a wholly uphill task of qualifying for the 2010 Fifa World Cup finals.
To stand any chance of boarding the plane for South Africa next year through automatic qualification, Turkey must achieve a better result against Estonia in September than group leaders Spain attain against Belgium. If not, the only way to qualify will be through a tricky Uefa play-off.
Fenerbahçe striker Semih Şentürk holds the key to a nation’s hopes as the country’s top scorer in qualifying with two, and captain Tuncay will look to avenge the disappointment of Middlesbrough’s season by leading his country to the 2010 finals.
The long road to South Africa began for Turkey with qualification last September, and The Crescent Stars looked well on the way after the aforementioned duo notched a goal apiece to beat Armenia in Yerevan.
Just four days later, an Emre penalty rescued a point against Belgium in Istanbul, and Turkey had to come from behind again in October to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1, thus maintaining their unbeaten record in qualifying.
The return leg heralded a dream start for Turkey in Istanbul, taking the lead through Semih after 26 minutes. English referee Mike Riley awarded Spain a penalty just after an hour, converted by Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso, and club mate Albert Riera broke Turkish hearts with a 92nd minute winner.
After the clash with Estonia in Istanbul in September, Turkey face three further vital games against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium and Armenia that will determine whether the squad will have the opportunity to replicate their heroics of 2002, when they finished third in Japan and South Korea.