Opposition watch [Türkiye] A different test awaits Seleção

Group F favourites Portugal and Türkiye both won on the opening matchday, and it will be interesting to see how each team approaches their meeting in Dortmund tomorrow.

Like Portugal with Czechia, the Turks had to overcome a well-organised defensive opponent in Georgia, in what was a mixed performance by Vincenzo Montella’s outfit. We take a look at a potentially new type of threat posed by the well-supported Turkish side.

Türkiye’s 3-1 win over Georgia was the classic case of a scoreline not telling the full story. Deep into injury time, Montella’s men had their backs against the wall as Georgia came desperately close to levelling the game up at 2-2, hitting the post and spurning a couple of other clear opportunities. In the end, with Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili thrown forward for a 96th-minute corner, Kerem Aktürkoğlu broke to score a game-clinching third with the final kick.

The tense ending seemed implausible given the way Türkiye started the match. Montella's team pressed high up the field, with his players showing vigour from the first whistle, roared on by a large Turkish following in the BVB Stadium. They led after 25 minutes and thought they had doubled the advantage just minutes later, but Kenan Yildiz saw his goal chalked off for offside.

The disallowed goal proved a turning point. Within minutes, Georgia’s impressive forward Georges Mikautadze had levelled the score at 1-1 and Türkiye appeared to lose confidence. Known as an emotional team, Turkish pundits have at times feared the side’s reaction to adversity, and there is no doubt Montella’s men struggled for some time before Real Madrid sensation Arda Güler tipped the match in their favour midway through the second period.

How they play

Türkiye played a 4-2-3-1 system against Georgia in a fashion which could not be much more of a contrast to Czechia. Not only was the defensive line extremely high, both full-backs were thrown forward, which resulted in a stunning opening goal when left-back Ferdi Kadıoğlu’s run and cross ended up at the back post for right-back Mert Müldür to score with a sensational volley. It was no surprise to see the possession stats read 70-30% in Türkiye’s favour after a rampant half an hour.

Whilst the Czechs went long to two tall strikers, Türkiye played without a natural no9, with Barış Yılmaz, often a wide man for his club Galatasaray, filling the role as focal point. Either side of him were the young sensations Arda Güler on the right and Juventus’ Kenan Yildiz on the left, backed up by Benfica’s Orkun Kökçü in the no10 role. With quality down both wings and on the overlap, Türkiye moved the ball well from side to side and progressed with purpose and intent against Georgia’s compact and well-numbered defence; the Turkish players matching their electric support on the stands.

With a striker who is more used to playing from wide and two expressive and inventive wingers, as well as danger from Orkun Kökçü, it is clear that the threat is a lot more intricate than Czechia’s tendency to bypass the midfield. Whether Roberto Martínez is prepared to risk leaving João Palhinha’s ball-winning tendencies on the sidelines will be an intriguing dynamic to his selection. Türkiye’s youth and energy should lead to far higher turnovers, while loose balls will be seized with more vigour than Portugal’s previous opponents.

From deep, veteran Hakan Çalhanoglu conducts with his technical precision, while his reputation for having one of the most lethal shots from free-kicks is noteworthy. Çalhanoglu’s delivery is of similarly high quality; Güler also takes responsibility in providing another option from dead balls. Set-pieces become a genuine danger with such quality over them.

We must talk about Arda

Türkiye are a vibrant side with the second-youngest squad at the tournament, and their individual quality is a significant step up from that possessed by Czechia. And it’s not only Arda Güler. José Mourinho is expected to lose rampaging left-back Ferdi Kadıoğlu from Fenerbahçe this summer, with Borussia Dortmund leading the queue for the Dutch-born defender, who has credited Vítor Pereira with aiding his transition from winger to full-back.

He could be joined in the Bundesliga by Hakan Çalhanoglu, reportedly a target for Bayern Munich. Earlier this season, the current Inter Milan star said in an interview: “I am the best deep-lying playmaker right now. Rodri is 2nd, Toni Kroos 3rd.”

Another major talent, Kenan Yıldız, spent ten years in Bayern’s academy before transferring to Juventus a couple of years ago, where he is seen a promising emerging star out wide.

Naturally, most is made of Arda Güler – the youngster long tipped to be Türkiye’s first true global superstar. The midfielder with a majestic left foot has got off to a good start, becoming the first player from his country to win the Champions League with Real Madrid last month, albeit he was a fringe squad member during his debut season in Spain.

Güler is a supreme natural talent playing as an inverted winger off the right side, possessing an awareness and composure far beyond his 19 years. He is intelligent, creative, combines well, can thread passes and as we saw against Georgia – he can shoot. Portugal’s choice on the left side of defence will be a point to ponder, with Güler on that side and Mert Müldür brimming with confidence after his stunning goal from right-back; a combination which could test the defensive resilience of João Cancelo.

But will he play against Portugal? Montella teased the media on Friday afternoon, refusing to confirm Güler’s place in the line-up amid talks of muscle fatigue.

Will Montella change anything?

Former Italy striker Montella has been in the job since last September, when he replaced the deeply unpopular German Stefan Kuntz towards the end of qualifying. Montella, who has coached Milan, Sevilla and Fiorentina among others, was well-acquainted with Turkish football after two years in charge of Adana Demirspor.

With his team looking less assured generally in the second period, Montella opted for pragmatism in protecting the 2-1 lead given to them by Arda Güler’s goal. The youngster was replaced and the team system switched to three CBs and a 5-4-1 system for what proved close to 20 minutes of defensive rearguard.

Montella has tended to stick with his 4-2-3-1 however and an opening-day victory lessens the need to change. It would be a surprise if the shape were to be altered much, even if the defensive line could naturally drop deeper. The big talking point remains Güler, who was reportedly not included in the final tactical training session, with Yunus Akgün taking his place. Whether Montella is teasing the media and keeping Portugal guessing is hard to judge. 

History

The sides have met 9 times in the past, with Portugal taking 7 wins from all competitive matches and Türkiye taking the spoils in 2 friendlies; the teams have never shared a draw. One of Portugal’s victories came in Türkiye’s memorable 2008 campaign. The Seleção ran out 2-0 winners in the sides’ Euro ’08 opener, after which Türkiye shocked the tournament by producing a series of comebacks and reaching the semi-finals.

The last meeting was Portugal’s 3-1 win at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, while the biggest scoreline saw the Seleção win 5-1 in World Cup qualification back in 1965. Türkiye arrive at the Euros having lost all three of their matches at Euro 2020.

What are they saying?

Vincenzo Montella (Manager)

"Us celebrating too much is not good, because it makes you lose concentration, it makes you lose contact with reality.

"Arda's shooting percentage is very high. We can expect a goal as soon as he sees the goal. It is not difficult for me to manage such players. He is a little tired. We will decide together whether he will be in the first 11 tomorrow or whether he will come into the game later.

"Unfortunately, physically, he's not 100 per cent fit. He's not doing so well, so we will decide whether to field him tomorrow, only at the last minute. I hope to have him.

“Ronaldo is a great player. A role model for many players. We are talking about a player who can score 50 goals in one season, and is a Ballon d'Or winner. Of course, it will be a difficult match because Portugal has this player.”

Ferdi Kadıoğlu (Left-back)

"I don't know whether it was good or bad for Portugal to win. The only thing we need to do is to prepare well. Playing against them will make us happy, because we have no wins against them in official matches.

"Of course, our goal is to ensure that the tournament is a starting point for future success. We want to have the best experience here and reach the farthest point we can go. If we make it to the final, we want Germany as our opponent."

Kerem Aktürkoğlu (Striker)

"Patience is our biggest motto as a team throughout the tournament. We always succumbed to our excitement in the previous matches. We showed what we can do if we are patient on the field. Patience is the key word in tomorrow's match.

"Team defence is one of the most important factors in such tournaments. Of course, the positions we took up in the first match put us in a difficult situation, but it will be different in the Portugal match.

"Last match we wore red and everywhere was red. We will wear white in this match, hopefully we will make everything white."

By @SeanGillen9