When Turkey went down to a 1-0 defeat in Azerbaijan on 12 October, coach Guus Hiddink decided radical action was needed. That process continues with Wednesday's friendly against Korea Republic, the country Hiddink once led, in Trabzon.
Before taking the role in August, Hiddink had seen the Turkey squad in action during a tour of the United States and decided against major changes prior to UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying. Their Group A bid began well with September wins in Kazakhstan and against Belgium, but when they lost to Germany and Azerbaijan the following month, Hiddink felt the time was right to put plans that had been forming in his mind since the summer into fruition.
You can lose to Germany and that's acceptable but we were beaten without showing any kind of resistance to the opposition," Hiddink said. "That's what made me sad. On the other hand, the Azerbaijan defeat was a complete disaster." He immediately called up nine uncapped players for the 1-0 friendly loss in the Netherlands in November and 1. FC Nürnberg midfielder Mehmet Ekici and Hamburger SV forward Tunay Torun are in the squad for the first time this week as Hiddink casts his net for potential players throughout Europe.
Hiddink has been assiduous in that task, watching many games in Turkey and across the continent right down to under-15 level. He has also spoken directly to many potential players. The experienced older heads like Nihat Kahveci and Mehmet Aurelio have begun making way, as have established players including forwards Tuncay Şanlı and Semih Şentürk, who have not been appearing regularly at club level.
In their place Hiddink has looked to foreign-based – and developed – talents like FC Bayern München's Hamit Altıntop and Borussia Dortmund's Nuri Şahin as well as to Mehmet Ekici and Tunay. Kayserispor's German-born defender Serdar Kesimal has been installed as Servet Çetin's new partner in the middle. Trabzonspor AŞ forwards Umut Bulut and Burak Yılmaz, meanwhile, have come into a squad without a goal in three games, with Hiddink also searching for a Plan B should playmaker Arda Turan be unavailable.
All this could prove significant come the 29 March visit of Austria, currently a point ahead of Turkey and with a game in hand in second place in Group A. Another important trip, to Belgium, follows in June. "I don't think [leaders] Germany will drop many points in their remaining games," Hiddink said. "Our direct rivals will be Austria and Belgium. From now on, we'll battle for second place."
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