By Paul Saffer in Tirrenia
Two things have stood out about the Turkey team in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship - their talent and their confidence.
Both these qualities are possessed in abundance by playmaker Nuri Sahin, who was superb in all three of their Group A games as they narrowly lost 1-0 to Italy and then defeated England 3-2 and Belarus 5-1 to advance to a semi-final against Croatia this afternoon.
The BV Borussia Dortmund midfielder, one of several Turkey squad members based in Germany, is delighted at his nation's progress, but revealed the team always thought they were capable of at least finishing in the top three and qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Championship later this year.
Nuri, who scored the crucial late winner against England, told uefa.com: "I am very proud and happy, but I think this was expected because we are a great side and our aim was to play in the final and go to Peru. This is the first step."
'A great team'
After the defeat by Italy, many pundits wondered whether the hosts and England would dominate the group. But Turkey, inspired by coach Abdullah Avci - whose bullish rhetoric has so far been borne out - bounced back in style. Nuri said: "We played well in the first game, and our coach said it was a great performance. We did not worry at all because we know we are a great team and knew we could beat England and Belarus - and we have done it."
Today in Cascina the prolific Croatians await, and Nuri, while respecting the opposition, is optimistic. "The Croatian team is a very technical team," he said. "Their forwards are very good and have scored eleven goals, but in defence they have had some difficulties.
I think we can win this match."
As befits such a confident side, nerves are not a problem. "We are very relaxed but on the field we are very strong," Nuri, the youngest member of Turkey's squad at last February's UEFA-CAF Meridian Cup on home soil, said. "Our coach has said we have to be relaxed when we are not playing."
Chance to shine
Of course, this competition is not just about results, but also about player development, and Nuri, who does not turn 17 until September, has attracted much attention, including from UEFA technical observer Timo Liekoski who has selected him as one of the players of the finals so far. "It is a very important tournament for me as I can show my ability to scouts and to coaches," Nuri said. "I was very good in the first two matches, and although I began slowly against Belarus I still played well."
Looking to the future, he added: "My ambition is to play in the first team for Borussia Dortmund, then my great dream is to play in England. It is not important which club, but
I would love to play in England with the great stadiums there."
When asked to name his footballing inspiration, he immediately selects a young player who has already made the switch to the Premiership. "Cristiano Ronaldo," said Nuri. "In my family everybody says I even look like him. He has great technique, and I have great technique too."
©UEFA.com 1998-2017. All rights reserved.