“My hot take for the tournament is Turkey. Not a lot of people will be expecting them to do well but they have a good squad and will be right at it.”
How BBC Euro 2020 pundit Ashley Williams must wish he could go back and erase this tip from our pre-tournament predictions piece.
The former Wales defender was not alone in pushing Senol Gunes’ side as their dark horse to go far in this summer’s competition, though. Far from it. Many others jumped on the bandwagon to proclaim the Turks their outside bet to upset the big boys.
The only place they are going, though, is home, with a record that is up there with some of the worst ever produced at a European Championship finals.
The fifth worst campaign in Euros history
Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Switzerland in Baku sealed Turkey’s fate. It represented a third loss in three games, coming after the 3-0 defeat to Italy in the opening match of the tournament and the 2-0 reversal against Wales.
They weren’t just beaten, though, they were humbled.
Italy battered them from the off, Wales roped them in and then hit them with a sucker-punch and Switzerland stood toe-to-toe with them and punched much harder.
They were at least able to register something of note in the final game, courtesy of Irfan Can Kahveci’s consolation strike – a magnificent long-range effort deserving of being part of a far better campaign.
Exactly how bad was this campaign? Well, in European Championship finals history 11 countries have failed to pick up a single point in the group stages and off those Turkey’s 2020 campaign is statistically the fifth worst.
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‘Such a performance at this tournament is unacceptable’
Coach Gunes claimed responsibility for his side’s performances, but also admitted that other factors and figures played their part.
“I am responsible for this,” he said.
“Players and individual mistakes are also responsible. Before the tournament, we were expected to play the final, and now we are being criticised so harshly.
“I do not think of resignation at the moment, the bill of failure has to be paid but media is also responsible, the management is also responsible, the coaching team is also responsible.
“This young team will mark the next 10 years of Turkish football but we are well aware that such a performance at this tournament is unacceptable.”
It wasn’t meant to go like this…
Turkey had earned their status as a tournament dark horse and had factors in their favour, including an impressive qualifying campaign, more experienced and talented squad than previous and two group games in Baku, where their fans would outnumber the oppositions’.
However, the Covid-enforced year-long delay to Euro 2020 appears to have been more detrimental to them than most.
In qualifying for the pan-European tournament, they conceded just three times, none of the goals coming from open play but have become more porous since, conceding at a much higher rate – three each against Germany, Croatia and Latvia, two to both Serbia and Russia.
In previous tournaments, they have arrived with a squad made up primarily of domestic-based players, but over half of the 2020 version play in top European divisions, including three members of Lille’s title-winning side – striker Burak Yilmaz, winger Yusuf Yazici and right-back Zeki Celik.
However, a dearth of experience outside the first-choice XI – four of the squad only made their debut in May – and an injury to striker Cenk Tosun, the top-scorer in qualifying, have clearly proven costly.
Gunes added a note of optimism, though.
“It was a big test for us but sometimes these failures can add more experience than success,” he said.
Defender Merih Demiral continued on such a theme.
“When the expectations are high, the disappointment is bigger,” said the Juventus player. “We will be attending other tournaments in the future and show what we are made of.
“We are a young squad, we will have chances to make it up. I apologise to our nation. I trust my friends, we have learned a lot from this experience.”