Ankara aiming high at Regions' Cup finals

"I am hung up on this trophy," said Ankara coach Mustafa Özer as he prepared to lead his side to the UEFA Regions' Cup finals. "We need to bring it home to Turkey."

Ankara line up in UEFA Regions' Cup qualifying
©Domenic Aquilina

"I am hung up on this trophy," admitted Ankara coach Mustafa Özer as he prepared to lead his side to the UEFA Regions' Cup finals in the Republic of Ireland. "We need to bring it home to Turkey."

The 45-year-old former Fenerbahçe SK and Turkey defender guided his team to one-goal victories against opponents from Russia, Malta and Finland to earn a return to the amateur finals – where his assistant, Hameş Öztürk, had overseen a previous Ankara outfit in 2011. Qualifying as intermediary Group 6 winners was no easy task.

"The teams were all of a similar standard, which is why the winning margins were so narrow," said Özer. "All three opponents were fantastic, in terms of talent and mentality, but our team play and the individual ability of a few of our players made the difference."

Some of the most skilful performers from qualifying are not available for this summer's finals in Ireland – notably experienced left-back Ferhat Samancı – yet Özer has been scouring the region's amateur championship for new faces. He also intends to hone his squad with training camps in Ankara and Istanbul ahead of the finals. "I will be analysing video footage of all our potential opponents," he added.

Deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, Özer's side thrives on pace with an emphasis on zonal defending, with midfielders Gökhan Demircan and Muhammet Kızılkaya catching the eye in qualification – and not only for their excitable hairstyles. Goalkeeper Gökhan Köksal and pacy right-winger Samet Dağlı also showed plenty of talent, while midfield utility man Muzaffer İlhan impressed both with his football and with his singing voice – often entertaining team-mates with duets with the Ankara kit man.

Özer hopes the whole squad will have something to sing about in Dublin. "In terms of the standard of organisation and the quality of opposition, this is a significant competition," the coach said. "Flying the Turkish flag and representing our amateur game will be great. We will aim for sporting success, but with a spirit of fair play too – we had no red cards in the Turkish championship or in qualifying in Malta."