Depleted Turkey must win at Budapest or bid goodbye to Rio

Depleted Turkey must win at     Budapest or bid goodbye to Rio

Turkey's Hamit Altıntop (L) and Hungary's Peter Halmosi (R) fight for the ball during their Group C Euro 2008 qualifying match in Budapest in this Oct. 7, 2006 file photo. The two teams meet in a World Cup qualifier in Budapest on Tuesday. (PHOTOS AP)

October 16, 2012, Tuesday/ 16:02:00/ OKAN UDO BASSEY

The Turkish national team, with only three points from three matches in the FIFA 2014 World Cup European Qualifying Group D, faces a must-win situation in Budapest to boost its slim chances of qualifying for the Rio tournament on Tuesday evening when it takes on Hungary in the fourth game of the group.

But going into this make or break match, Abdullah Avcı’s team is almost depleted to bare bones due to a string of injuries. Fenerbahçe right defensive midfielder Gökhan Gönül is the latest to be withdrawn from the national squad due to injury. He joins the other walking wounded -- midfielders Mehmet Topal and Selçuk İnan as well as striker Burak Yılmaz -- who will be conspicuously absent from the team in Budapest on Tuesday.

Furthermore, first-choice keeper Volkan Demirel, playmaker Arda Turan and midfielder Ömer Toprak were also on the injury list and missed some training sessions. These players, however, have been included in the squad and are expected to be fit on or before match time.

How under-fire Avcı -- who according to rumors had said he would quit after Tuesday’s Budapest game -- deals with a multitude of injuries and poor form adversely affecting the team remains to be seen. But one thing is dead certain: Avcı has run out of excuses and failure in Budapest is something exasperated Turkish fans cannot tolerate or condone.

The Turks have won one and lost two so far. They were beaten 2-0 by group favorite the Netherlands in the opening match on Sept. 7 but rebounded four days later (Sept. 11) to defeat 10-man Estonia in İstanbul. Avcı’s men then shot themselves in the foot by losing 1-0 to Romania in İstanbul on Friday, meaning their hopes of qualifying for Rio 2014 now hang in the balance.

Hungary goes into Tuesday’s match in fourth place with six points -- three ahead of Turkey -- with two wins and one defeat. The only blemish on the Hungarians’ record so far is the 4-1 home defeat to the Dutch in game two on Sept. 11. Hungary crushed tiny Andorra 5-0 away in the opener and beat Estonia 1-0 at home on Friday.

Hungary is currently ranked 49th by FIFA, while Turkey is 36th. But these rankings do not mean much because football is played on the pitch, not on a piece of paper. Therefore Turkey, judging from the recent dismal results, is not the odds-on favorite despite its superior ranking.

But Avcı disagrees. “We wanted to emerge as leaders from the group, but now our plans have changed,” he said after Friday’s loss to Romania. “Now we must beat Hungary,” he added.

That’s actually what the whole of Turkey wants to see. For the record: Hungary and Turkey were pitted in Group C of the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Elsewhere in Group D on Tuesday, Romania and the Netherlands put their 100 percent records on the line in their clash in Bucharest. Romania has not qualified for the World Cup since 1998 but has made a flying start in Group D, beating Turkey, Andorra and Estonia without letting in a goal. The Romanians could prove a handful for the Dutch who, led by flamboyant coach Louis van Gaal, have scored nine goals in their first three outings.

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