Dutch Euro 2012 ouster puts pressure on Turkey

Turkish national team players celebrate one of their three goals against Portugal during a friendly in Lisbon in this June 2 file photo. Turkey won the match 3-1. (PHOTO Today’s Zaman)

June 19, 2012, Tuesday/ 16:31:00

Sept. 7 -- when Turkey faces the Netherlands in their 2014 World Cup Group D qualifying opening match in Amsterdam -- may seem like a long way away.

But the elimination of the Netherlands from the ongoing Euro 2012 is bound to up the pressure in the group that also includes Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra.

The Dutch, the 2010 World Cup losing finalists, came to Euro 2012 as one of the favorites, but that turned into pure illusion on Sunday, when the “Unflying Dutchmen” were beaten by goals from Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and sent packing.

The Netherlands, which has not won a major football championship in 24 years, will definitely be going home to start preparing for the qualifiers of the 2014 World Cup. Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk’s days may be numbered and the retirement of veteran winger Arjen Robben from professional football is imminent, meaning the Netherlands will now have to start from scratch. “We have to start from the beginning again,” said midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, who was the Netherlands captain in Sunday’s debacle against Portugal.

This is the part that interests Turkey the most because the Dutch appear to be the only team in Group D capable of standing in Turkey’s way to the 2014 World Cup. And with only one team from the group guaranteed a spot in the finals, Turkey will really have to work hard for a ticket to Brazil.

New Turkey coach Abdullah Avcı, without the slightest doubt, is plotting day in and day out on how to prevent the Dutch or any other team in Group D from taking that ticket. And from the look of things it will not be an easy battle.

“The Netherlands is a very good and talented team despite its early exit from Euro 2012,” Avcı said on Monday. “This we know for sure, and everything is going according to plan,” he added.

The 48-year-old Avcı is trying beef up the national team with some Europe-based Turkish players, like Nuremberg midfielder Sercan Saraer. There is also Gökhan Töre, the 20-year-old who plays his professional football with Hamburg, and Ömer Toprak, the Bayer Leverkusen defender who scored against Bulgaria during the friendlies.

This experiment seemed to work in the five warm-up matches the national team played in Europe in late May and early June. The Turks beat Georgia 2-0, were defeated 3-2 by Finland, rebounded to subdue Bulgaria 2-0, beat Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal 3-1 in Lisbon and ended their campaign with a well-deserved 2-0 victory over Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine.

Make hay while the sun shines, they say. Avcı, starting his training and preparations for the 2014 World Cup, is definitely a step in the right direction. Football-loving Turkey, which missed out on the 2010 World Cup and the ongoing Euro 2012, cannot afford to be absent from another major football tournament.

World qualifying Group D teams: Turkey, Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra.

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