By Paul Saffer in Tirrenia
Before the UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals even began, Turkey coach Abdullah Avci declared: "I can say that my side are better than the rest."
He was only referring to Group A, but while Belarus, England and hosts Italy have fallen by the wayside, Turkey have gone on and they enter Saturday's final against the Netherlands as the team that has generated most excitement in the competition. Certainly, former Galatasary SK youth coach Avci, who took up his current role just before qualifying started, concurs.
I think we have played really well in this tournament," he told uefa.com. "Maybe we have made a few individual mistakes, but I think all the spectators have enjoyed our matches."
Turkey's opening game produced a disappointing result - a 1-0 loss to the hosts in Pontedera, venue for the final. But two days later they returned to defeat England 3-2, and a 5-1 win against Belarus took them into the semi-finals, where they outplayed Croatia in a 3-1 victory.
Avci, however, points to their excellent overall display in the first match, which even then opened a few eyes. "The Italian game was in many ways our best performance," he said. "We created a lot of chances, but in football you also need luck, and we were unlucky in this match."
He added: "The England game was critical for us - if we lost we would probably now be in Istanbul. We knew the importance of this game and during the first half we scored twice, only to concede twice early in the second half. So we made changes, gave everything, and gained a win in the most important game of our tournament.
"After this match we understood that if we played well, we would win.
We then played excellently against Belarus and Croatia, won both and scored a lot of goals." Indeed, the already-confident squad were believing they could go all the way.
"Before the Croatia game we studied all the videos of their matches," Avci said. "And even before kick-off we thought we were close to victory, that we were better than them. During this game we took our chances, we shot, we scored, we passed - we did everything. We only allowed Croatia two chances, they scored one, and missed one."
Nevertheless, Avci reckons his team are just coming to the boil. "Before the tournament we thought we had very good players. Not everyone played well in the group stage, but in the semi-final they started to perform, and I think they will play very well in the final," he said.
Now only the Dutch, who required a late equaliser to hold visitors Turkey in the qualifying round, stand in the way of Avci's charges. The coach, though, has already achieved much of what he set out to, not least ensuring a place in the FIFA U-17 World Championship later this year.
"Before coming here we had several aims - to display fair play, to provide players who can go on to represent the senior national team and to qualify for the World Championship in Peru," Avci said. "Now, we are top of the fair play rankings and we have qualified for Peru.
"But there is one more aim, to become champions. On Saturday the president of the Turkish Football Federation and several member of the executive committee will be here to watch the final, and we want to give them the cup."
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