Turkey have been in impressive form recently, with 4-2 and 3-0 wins over the Netherlands and Norway in Marchsulox32/pixabay

Dark horse


  1. a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.

Since the European Championships first began in 1960, ten different nations have gone on to win it. Among these ten are a good number of surprises, including Greece (2004), the Soviet Union (1960), Czechoslovakia (1976) and perhaps best of all, Denmark (1992), who were drafted in at the last minute when Yugoslavia were forced to withdraw due to the ongoing civil war. What’s to say Euro 2020 won’t produce another shock winner? And who’s to say that winner won’t be Turkey?

Turkey’s international history is very hit-and-miss. 2020 marks only the fifth time Turkey have qualified for the tournament, having done so previously in 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2016. Their first outing was remarkably catastrophic: Turkey played three group games, scored no goals and finished last in their group. Four years later, they progressed one step further, squeezing out of the group with four points, only to be knocked out immediately by Portugal. The 2002 World Cup, however, has been inscribed into Turkish footballing history: they made it to the semi-final, only to be beaten by eventual winners, Brazil. Other than their third-place finish in Euro 2008, this is the best result in the nation’s history of international competition. Despite continuous progression over the years, Euro 2016 ended much like Euro 1996, as Turkey were knocked out in the group stage.

“Turkish football, much like English football, is well known for keeping to themselves”

Turkish football, much like English football, is well known for keeping to themselves. Until recently, it was very rare to find English players playing outside of England, and such was the case for Turkey. In their 1996 squad, every single player played in the Süper Lig, and all but six for Beşiktaş, Galatasaray, Trabzonspor or Fenerbahçe. However, this year, the picture is very different. This year, Turkey have players in all of Europe’s top five leagues, some of whom are achieving great things. Veteran striker Burak Yilmaz, for example, plays with Zeki Çelik and Yusuf Yazici at Lille, who are one game away from winning Ligue 1, while Çağlar Söyüncü and Cengiz Ünder have just won the FA Cup with Leicester. Four more players, including Liverpool’s Ozan Kabak, have played Champions League football this season. Their manager, Şenol Güneş, also has a successful background, having played 424 games and won six Super Ligs with Trabzonspor as a goalkeeper, resulting in them naming the stadium after him. Furthermore, it was Güneş who managed Turkey to their historic World Cup Semi-Final in 2002.

“Despite the blips, Turkey’s form over the last two years has been eye-catching, to say the least”

But how will Turkey look at these Euros? You can expect to see plenty of 35-year-old captain Burak Yilmaz, whose statistics are impressive. Having scored 188 Süper Lig goals (making him seventh all-time), he moved to Lille in August 2020 and has gone on to lead their title challenge, scoring 15 goals and finishing second in goals per 90 minutes behind Kylian Mbappé. Equally dangerous is free kick specialist Hakan Çalhanoglu, who currently plays as an attacking midfielder for AC Milan. In defence, you’ll recognise Çağlar Söyüncü, who has been strong for Leicester this season and Ozan Kabak, who’s been slightly less strong for Liverpool.


Mountain View

Euro 2020 Dark Horses: Ukraine

Having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Güneş took over as manager and led Turkey on an impressive Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. Keeping eight clean sheets in their ten games (the most of all competing teams), Turkey finished second in their group behind favourites France, against whom they were in fact unbeaten (2-0, 1-1). Despite some concerning results in the latest round of the Nations League, Turkey have maintained their form into the World Cup Qualifiers, ramping up the goals. In their three March matches, they beat the Netherlands 4-2 and Haaland’s Norway 3-0, but somehow came up short against Latvia, drawing 3-3. Despite the blips, Turkey’s form over the last two years has been eye-catching, to say the least.

So, how will they realistically fare in Euro 2020? Their Group A competition consists of Italy, Switzerland and Wales, none of whom should be impossible to beat. Assuming they qualify out of the group, the luck of the draw will shape their route through the knockout stages. Given a reasonable set of opponents, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Turkey matching their 2002 and 2008 results and making it to the semi-final. We can certainly expect them to make the quarters and perhaps upset at least one of the favourites.

Star Man: Burak Yilmaz

Player to Watch: Hakan Çalhanoglu

Realistic Expectations: Quarter-Finals