Nuri Şahin was the key to Turkey's 2005 victory.
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The year 2005 was one Nuri Şahin is unlikely to forget in a hurry. In August, aged 16 years and 335 days, he became the youngest player to make his Bundesliga debut when he took the field for BV Borussia Dortmund. Then in October he was given his senior international debut by Turkey and scored what proved the winner against the country of his birth, Germany, the youngest ever to appear and claim a goal for the national team. The following month against 1. FC Nürnberg he became the youngest Bundesliga scorer. And that May he had inspired Turkey to win the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
Turkey had shown their ability in qualifying by eliminating holders France, and coach Abdullah Avci declared before the group stage: "I can say that my side are better than the rest." His team were unlucky to lose their opener 1-0 to Italy after missing a hatful of chances, but they soon hit form, beating England, Belarus, Croatia and the Netherlands to claim the European title. They then reached the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup for good measure.
Their team was full of talent, especially up front, but the key man was Nuri, a year younger than most the players in the finals. He was the pivot in midfield, the man the defence looked to give the ball whenever possible and the player responsible for creating chances for the forward-running Tevfik Köse, Deniz Yilmaz, Özgürcan Özcan and Caner Erkin.
But he could finish as well, as he proved in the second group game against England. Having seen a 2-0 lead disappear, Turkey's campaign was in peril. But Nuri took possession on the edge of the penalty area, and his strong shot deflected past England goalkeeper David Button. Three days later Nuri was a sensation against Belarus. Tevfik Köse and Deniz Yilmaz scored the goals in the 5-1 win, but almost everything Turkey did was inspired by Nuri.
Even at this stage UEFA technical observer Timo Liekoski was singling Nuri out for praise, and the confident midfielder himself was already looking to the future in a uefa.com interview. "It is a very important tournament for me as I can show my ability to scouts and to coaches," Nuri said. "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."
First, though, there was a trophy to win. In the semi-finals against Croatia, it was Nuri's free-kick that Murat Duerer headed in to secure a 3-1 victory, just as it seemed Turkey's lead was looking fragile. And of course it was Nuri who created the opening goal in the final, slipping the ball to Deniz Yilmaz for the first in a 2-0 win against the Netherlands.
Soon he was displaying those abilities on the senior stage, a spectacular success for Turkey's policy of scouting players from their 2.7m-strong diaspora in Germany. Talking to UEFA.com at the U17 finals, Nuri identified his favourite player as Cristiano Ronaldo, stating: "He has great technique, and I have great technique too." But Ronaldo was a relatively ancient 18 when he made his senior international debut. On loan at Feyenoord in 2007/08, Nuri broke back into the Dortmund first team the next year and is now past 100 appearances.