Five wins, three draws, two losses. A remarkable comeback in the final three games, and a nerve-wracking final game in Istanbul, saw Fatih Terim's men secure qualification as best third placed team as they faced the Netherlands, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Kazakhstan in Group A of the qualifying stages.
A slow start for the Cresent-Stars
Turkey failed to secure any points in their opening two games after a devastating 3-0 loss to Iceland and a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic. A ruthless Iceland scored twice in two minutes to kill the game against a ten-man Turkey, in a reasonably even game. Defender Ömer Toprak was sent off in the 59th minute for a second bookable offence, which allowed Iceland to take full advantage of the situation
Turkey managed to find the back of the net against the Czech Republic within eight minutes of the first whistle, but the Czechs quickly equalised. A penalty in the second half gifted the Czech Republic the points as Turkey looked like the slightly more dominant side as they looked to have more attacking momentum.
Momentum started to gather between Terim’s men as they secured a point against Latvia. Bilal Kisa put Latvia in front with a long-range drive in the final minutes of the first half, yet a Sabala penalty in the opening stages of the second earned Turkey a point. The game also saw Turkey dominate possession and have double the attempts at goal than Latvia, suggesting it should have been more.
Pushing for points
Since the 1-1 draw with Latvia, Turkey picked up points in every game, a comeback started to look likely for Terim’s men. Their next game saw them face Kazakhstan, a country in which they had previously won four games out of four. Two goals in three minutes saw the Cresent-Stars gain a substantial lead before the half hour mark.
Serdar Aziz then scored on this international debut to kill off the game. However, Kazakhstan managed to scored a consolation goal with three minutes left of the final whistle after they won a penalty. The result saw Turkey secure their first Group A win of the qualifying stages and continue their unbeaten run against Kazakhstan.
Turkey then faced the Netherlands. Burak Yilmaz opened the scoring in the 37th minute and Turkey looked to have secured all three points until the Netherlands equalized through a Klaas-Jan Huntelaar strike deep into additional time. The result left the Netherlands two points above Turkey and five points behind second placed Iceland.
Turkey were back to winning ways against Kazakhstan after captain Arda Turan scored in the final ten minutes. This left Turkey five points adrift from the top spot having played an extra game.
An equalizer in extra time from Latvia in their next game denied Turkey another three points and so held them to fourth place in the group. Qualification for Terim's men looked increasingly less likely as their remaining games were against the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Iceland; the three teams that sat above them in the table.
Turkey’s rescue mission
In a game that would later prove decisive in who would earn third spot, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Ardan Turan and Burak Yilmaz found the back of the net to secure a 3-0 win. The result saw Turkey defeat the Netherlands for the first time since 1997 and consequently move above them into third place, forcing themselves back into the race for a play off spot.
The Cresent-Stars scored two second half goals against an already qualified Czech Republic team. The result meant that they needed only one point in their final game against Iceland to secure third and a spot in the playoffs. Turkey bettered that. A late free kick from Selcuk Inan won the game for a 10-man Turkey in Istanbul.
The win meant that Turkey avoided the play-offs and qualified as the best third placed team. An amazing three wins from three meant that Turkey finished five points above the Netherlands, who failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 2002 World Cup.