Profiles - World Cup Teams - Turkey
Turkey The last time Turkey met a real world footballing power, the results were not pretty.

Powerful French midfielders sent their smaller Turkish opposite numbers sprawling into the mud of a rainy Istanbul night late in 2000 as the World and European champions swept to an all too easy 4-0 friendly win.

But Turkey recovered from that loss - and the shattering 2-1 defeat at home to Sweden in their last qualifying match - to make it into the play-offs where they demolished Austria 6-0 on aggregate.

They now head towards their first World Cup finals for 48 years full of cautious optimism.

Coach Senol Gunes, cautious as ever, tries not to speculate about what his side can expect to produce in the finals.

'Climbing to the summit means you have to get on the first step of the ladder. For us the first step was qualification,' he says.

Apart from the 5-0 win over Austria in the second leg of the play-off, Turkey's path to the finals is unlikely to strike fear into opponents.

A 1-1 draw at home to Slovakia and 3-3 at home to Macedonia are not results to shake the world.

Turkey made it, nonetheless, to their first World Cup since 1954 and have chalked up good results in recent years. They made it to the last eight of Euro 2000 and Galatasaray, who form the bulk of the national team, have earned a strong reputation in club competition.

Hence the confidence that pervades Turkish football after decades as whipping boys.

'We are on the rise and our players are growing and learning. Our path is opening up ahead of us,' said Gunes, a believer in the power of soccer to boost 65 million Turks, many of them poor and suffering in a painful recession.

'As a nation we have the strength to do anything. We are hard-working and talented,' he said after the Austria win.

While Gunes stresses homegrown virtues, it is Europe that has really boosted Turkish soccer.

Many of Turkey's best players grew up in Europe, sons of migrant workers. Midfielders Umit Davala and Yildiray Basturk are just two born and raised in Germany.

Others did the reverse, moving to Italy or Britain to play after hitting a ceiling at the top of their domestic game.

Turkey has never had such an international squad as now, with nine of 26 players playing in western Europe.

Midfielder Tugay Kerimoglu has done well at Blackburn Rovers and Gunes sees growth in defender Alpay Ozalan since he moved to Aston Villa.

'Going to Villa has helped him develop and removed some of the pressures on him,' Gunes said. 'In a way he was unlucky he met Europe so late.'

Turks in Europe speak of the professionalism they learn there although many, such as Okan Buruk and Hakan Sukur, also have to learn patience on the bench at Inter Milan and now at Parma.

Sukur has also had to be patient with the national side as Gunes often leaves him alone up front, relying on sometimes intermittent service from the midfield. Despite that he still averages about a goal every two games.

Gunes generally plays a three-man defence built around Alpay in front of Fenerbahce goalkeeper Rustu Recber.

The midfield can be five or six players, often orchestrated by Tugay, who plays just in front of the defence.

Gunes likes to play at least one attacking midfielder behind striker Hakan, but his choice will be retricted to usually choosing between Basturk and Arif Erdem after injury to Sergen Yalcin. homepage