Since their victory in the 2005 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, Turkey have become a perennial force at this level, their run to this season's semi-final matching their performance of two years ago. However, in some ways it was something of a surprise.
Coach Abdullah Ercan only took over the current squad in the winter, having led last season's team to the FIFA U-17 World Cup quarter-finals in Nigeria. By then the 2009/10 crop had only just squeezed through the qualifying round in a three-way head-to-head tie-breaker after losing to Germany and looked to have a tough elite round job on their hands in France in March as Ercan set about revamping the squad.
Yet in their first game they beat the hosts 1-0 and were to top the group ahead of a French team also destined to reach the U17 semi-finals. In Liechtenstein, Turkey began excellently with a 3-1 defeat of Greece, meaning they could afford to draw 1-1 with the Czech Republic and lose 2-1 to England and still go through. Yet Spain ended their campaign on Thursday with a 3-1 win, Ercan's side coming back to equalise but then being reduced to ten men and conceding twice in quick succession.
Captain Artun Akçakin, the star of the team with three finals goals, reflected: "When we started six months ago, nobody guessed what we were capable of. When we went to the elite round in France, people said just go there, play, and come back. But we have become a very good team. We have come very far, we did everything possible and made the last four, which is a success for us."
However, they could not go further after running up against Spain. "After the England game we prepared well for this semi-final but during the course of the game something went wrong and we couldn't do what we wanted," Artun said. "We began the second half very well. We kept Spain in their own territory but after going behind with only ten men it was very difficult for us."
Ercan, meanwhile, believes that had he had longer with the team, they may have done even better. "We needed more time to work with the players; I wish we'd had even more time," he said. "I already knew the team but have had only six months with them. If I'd had more time I would have tried to find even better players. Squads are very different – last year's squad had much better defenders."
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