Former Turkish international Abdullah Ercan showed his mettle as a coach last year by leading his nation to the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals and then the last eight of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. However, when he took over this season's squad in the winter he was not impressed and embarked on a process of transformation. His revamped side went on to win their elite round group in France to earn a place in the finals in Liechtenstein. Ercan spoke to UEFA.com about the changes he made and their preparations for facing Greece, the Czech Republic and England in Group B from Tuesday.
UEFA.com: Prior to the elite round, you had some difficulties with your team.
Abdullah Ercan: I was appointed as Under-17 coach not long before the elite round. In anticipation of getting the job, I started to follow the players from six months earlier. Not only had we limited time but squad problems too. We had difficulty finding starting players in defence and midfield, so immediately after officially taking over the team, we set up a friendly match against France to try some new players.
We made radical changes within the side. If you take our first match which was a friendly against France and our last match against Norway in the elite round, you'll see seven different starters. We had four new players who made their international debuts during the elite round. Also, injuries to key players like Emre Pehlivan and Süleyman Özdamar were another setback.
UEFA.com: What was the key to your success in the elite round?
Ercan: It's not hard to motivate such young players for a tournament. We managed to be a team. Motivation and ambition were the keys to our elite round achievement. We need to add tactical nous to this. France were the most powerful team in our group plus they had the advantage of being hosts, but we managed to beat them 1-0 and that victory boosted the self-confidence of our players. If we had lost this match, we wouldn't have qualified for the finals.
UEFA.com: And then came the Wales and Norway games...
Ercan: We were better than Wales in our game but it ended up 1-1. However, things were different against Norway as we totally dominated the game and got a well deserved victory. Norway did not have any chances to score, while we could have scored four or more goals.
UEFA.com: Can you comment on your opponents in the finals?
Ercan: We know England, the Czech Republic and Greece very well as we played against them before but we will still analyse their current condition.
UEFA.com: What does it mean for Turkey to be in the finals of a youth competition?
Ercan: In terms of youth football, we are in the top eight in Europe. The 1993-born players are repeating the success of 1992 generation and this is fantastic, because any player who takes part in the finals gets a huge confidence boost.
The atmosphere there will be a big experience for them. They know who they'll face in the future.
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