Having dominated the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in May, Turkey begin their campaign to capture the global crown in high spirits.
Successes against England, Belarus and Croatia in Italy were followed by a 2-0 final triumph against the Netherlands, watched by among others senior international Emre Belözoglu, and few disputed that Abdullah Avci's side were deserved trophy recipients. Now in the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru, they are aiming to claim the cup at the first attempt, starting on Friday against Australia before further Group B tests against Uruguay and Mexico.
The eleven players who started the four summer victories have all made the trip to South America, and their performances four months ago gained many admiring glances. Bayer 04 Leverkusen forward Tevfik Köse struck six goals in five finals games, the best in the competition, and along with Deniz Yilmaz, Özgürcan Özcan and accurate finisher Caner Erkin, formed a formidable attacking combination.
Playmaker Nuri Sahin was the heart of the midfield, and this season made his BV Borussia Dortmund bow - at 16 years and 335 days, the youngest-ever Bundesliga debutant. He has been tipped for inclusion in Fatih Terim's squad when UEFA EURO 2008™ qualification begins, by which time Fenerbahçe SK's Volkan Babacan could be capping his reputation as the best Turkish goalkeeper of his generation.
In defence Galatasaray SK's Erkan Ferin captains the team, and reflects the squad's confidence. "Within four months we are participating in our second important championship," he said. "We want to be successful once again. No matter how far we are from our supporters, we feel their support close to us. The only target in our minds is making Turkey world champions. Each one of us is the best in our position at our age group. We have complete self-confidence and believe we can achieve great things."
That belief has been instilled by former Galatasaray academy chief Avci, who after taking over at the start of last season led the side to 12 wins, three draws and only one defeat - the victory against the Netherlands bringing up the dozen. He is now putting the finishing touches to Turkey's preparations, and is intriguiged by FIFA's much-vaunted experiment out in Peru of inserting a chip in the ball which will alert the referee should it cross the line.
"This technology will avoid confusion, reaction and bring fairer arbitration," Avci said. "Players will no longer have to question refereeing decisions. This will take the pressure off referees." He himself rarely looks a man under pressure, as Turkey bid to go two better than their third-placed senior side did at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
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