Fatih Terim's Turkey qualification hopes for the 2016 European Championship are all but lost, but its fate will be sealed if the national team does not defeat Latvia on Thursday.
They are in lowly fourth place in Group A behind Iceland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands, which have 15, 13 and 10 points, respectively. With only eight points, Turkey is ahead of Latvia's three and Kazakhstan's one.
In its last qualifier, in June, a late Arda Turan goal gave Turkey a crucial win over Kazakhstan in Almaty. The Barcelona midfielder is again the lynchpin in the Turkish side's strategy as the most accomplished player in the squad. The worry there is that Arda is just recovering from a three-week injury and so may not be in top form.
Plus, Arda has not played in real match time for a long time ...
Turkey coach Fatih Terim was singing the playmaker's praises when in St. Petersburg for the 2018 World Cup draw. “Barcelona signed an amazing player. Arda has the character to carry his team and his teammates forward,” he told Spanish paper El Deportivo. Despite his success, Arda alone cannot carry this floundering ship they call the national team. It takes more than one good player.
There are a few more key players, including Selcuk Inan and Galatasaray striker Burak Yılmaz, who as the team's top scorer with four goals has brought most of Turkey's goals home in the qualifiers so far.
The team will be without Fenerbahahce veteran defender Gokhan Gonul who was removed from the roster due to injury concerns during training before the team left for Konya on Tuesday evening. Fans welcomed the national team at the airport in Konya late on Tuesday and it held its final practice on Wednesday.
State of dependence
Beyond gathering crucial points for Turkey, this match gives the Turks a chance to have the last say. When the two sides met in their first match in Riga last October, Turkey failed to pull out a win. Galatasaray midfielder Bilal Kısa scored at the beginning of the second half only to witness an equalizer seven minutes later with a penalty by Jablonec striker Valerijs Sabala. Bilal has no even been named in the squad this time, but Sabala will be there.
Turkey has put itself in a position in which nothing but a win and helpful results from matches involving its group rivals will do to keep qualifying hopes alive. Things seem grim, but the team is only two points behind the Netherlands going into Thursday night's game, so all is not lost
Kazakhstan must pull off a surprise win over host Czech Republic on Thursday and the Netherlands must again lose to rampant Iceland in Amsterdam, like in the teams' first encounter last November, to give Turkey its best chance of succeeding.
After Latvia, Turkey's last three qualifiers – if the name still bears any significance -- are against the Netherlands on Sept. 6, then Czech Republic and Iceland in October, so the road is going to get gradually steeper for the Turks as they face successively tougher teams.
For Turkey, each competition that slides by without them is a further blow to its morale. The team has not qualified for a major international competition since reaching the semifinals of the 2008 edition when it lost 3-2 in a thriller to Germany who scored in the last minute.
Turkish fans have steadily become disillusioned with the national team's performance since that great performance as they have seen two World Cups and two European Championships come and go without Turkey's participation.
Now, with such slim chances of qualifying, even under the watch of the most successful coach in the national team's history, Turkey looks set to disappoint yet again. The least the Turks can do is bring out that indomitable fighting spirit they had in 2008 and record a few wins, whether or not the other teams' results comply with Turkey's wishes.
The match kicks off at 9:45 p.m. at Konya's Torku Stadium. The referee is Sweden's Stefan Johannesson. Fredrik Nilsson and Magnus Sjoblom will be assist him on the sidelines and Stefan Hallberg is the fourth official.