Turkey and the momentous journey to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals

Turkey and the momentous journey to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals

THE STORY OF TURKISH DOMESTIC FOOTBALL is best described as passionate yet volatile – on and off the field. These traits are well known amongst fans, even if at times it has served as a black stain when their unrestrained passion has overstepped the mark. These same fans are equally as unpredictable when supporting their national team. Yet in 2002, fans of all Turkish clubs set aside their rivalries to unite for their national team’s greatest achievement.

Prior to the turn of the 21st century, the story of Ay Yildizlilar was one of failure and close misses. Although the Turks qualified for the 1950 World Cup, they were forced to withdraw, mainly due to financial problems. Four years later they lost 7-2 to West Germany in a group stage playoff to decide who would reach the knockout stages after both teams had accumulated the same number of points.

During the rest of the 20th century, the national team would fail to qualify for the World Cup, but that’s not to say progress wasn’t made. Under Fatih Terim’s stewardship, Turkey managed to qualify for Euro 96, which would be their first participation in a major tournament for 42 years. However, euphoria would turn to despair, as the national side failed to score a single goal.

Terim would be replaced by Mustafa Denizli, whose efforts for Kocaelispor in the league caught the attention of the Turkish Football Federation. Denizli’s tenure didn’t start well: their 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign ended unsuccessfully, finishing four points behind second-placed Belgium and five points behind group winners the Netherlands.

All the more galling for Turkey was they had defeated the Dutch at home, thanks to a solitary Hakan Şükür goal, even managing to hold Oranje to a goalless draw in the return fixture. What sunk Turkey’s World Cup hopes were their two defeats to Belgium: 2-1 in their opening game in Brussels and a damaging 3-1 loss in Istanbul.

Failure to qualify for the 1998 World Cup was tempered by qualifying for Euro 2000. The Turks would exact revenge on co-hosts Belgium by winning 2-0 and head to the knockout stages at their expense. However, despite losing 2-0 to Portugal in the quarter-finals, Euro 2000 was a historic milestone for the national team as they reached the knockout stages of an international tournament for the first time. Denizli would then leave the Turkey job to become manager of Fenerbahçe where he lasted for just a solitary season.

Denizli’s replacement was Şenol Güneş, who had one objective for the national team: qualify for the 2002 World Cup. The 48-year-old had good reason to be optimistic, with Turkish football on the rise. Galatasaray, the country’s most successful football club, won an unprecedented treble during the 1999-2000 season. Winning the league and domestic cup was great but it had been done before. The prize of beating Arsenal on penalties to lift the UEFA Cup, as well as defeating Real Madrid to lift the Super Cup, heralded the first European club silverware for a Turkish side. If Güneş was able to get his country to a World Cup it would cement the steady progress of Turkish football.

Under Güneş, the national team finished second in their group behind Sweden. The five goals of Şükür proved vital, and two of those earned vital 1-0 away wins against Azerbaijan and Slovakia. Turkey would face a two-legged playoff in November 2001 against Austria for a place at the finals. The first leg in Vienna was a tight affair but the Turks managed to scrape a key 1-0 win. It would be in the second leg in Istanbul that Turkey showed their potential.

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The game was decided in the first half with three goals, midfielder Yildiray Baştürk capitalising on a defensive error with a composed finish, Hakan Şükür doubling their lead with a fantastic volley into the top corner, and Okan Buruk sending the crowd into raptures by making it 3-0. Striker Arif Erdem would score twice in the second half to seal Turkey’s spot at the 2002 World Cup.




The draw for the group stage gave Turkey optimism of reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup. With their games in Korea, they were placed in Group C with four-time winners Brazil and debutants China and Costa Rica. The only obstacle was that their first game would be against Brazil.

Under Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Seleção had a formidable squad, boasting talents like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos. They also had a 22-year-old by the name of Ronaldinho, making his World Cup debut after a solid first season in Europe at Paris Saint-Germain.

To face Brazil in a World Cup opener is difficult for any side. Winning your opening game is an excellent confidence boost for the tournament ahead. Lose the opening match and the following game is already a decider where defeat means crashing out of the competition before it has begun. Observers had the Brazilians as favourites but Turkey took the game to their opponents in the opening stages. However, goalkeeper Rüştü Reçber had to be alert, smartly denying Rivaldo on two occasions. Though Brazil had most of the chances, it would be Turkey who struck on the stroke of half-time in Ulsan.

Yildiray Baştürk received the ball in the final third and went past his marker. As the midfielder looked up he saw winger Hasan Şaş ghosting past the Brazil Cafu, who was ball watching instead of tracking his opponent’s run into the box. Baştürk clipped the ball over centre-back Roque Júnior and Şaş’ shot on the half-volley crept in past Marcos at the near post. Brazil looked stunned and, despite their attacking endeavours, found themselves a goal down at half-time.

The Seleção started the second half strongly, with Ronaldo equalising from Rivaldo’s cross on 50 minutes. Throughout the second period, Güneş’ players valiantly defended, as they tried to earn what would have been a deserved point. Enter South Korean referee Kim Young-Joo.

With five minutes of normal time remaining, Rüştü made a terrible hash of clearing the ball, only going as far as striker Luizão. The substitute, who had replaced Ronaldo, charged towards the box only for centre-back Alpay to haul him down. Young-Joo rightly gave the defender his second yellow card, but wrongly awarded Brazil a penalty, for Luizão was fouled outside the box. Rivaldo converted the penalty to make it 2-1, and worse was to follow deep into stoppage time.

As Brazil won a corner, Rivaldo trotted to the corner flag, but did so without the ball hoping to use up a few more seconds. Turkey’s Hakan Ünsal kicked the ball at Rivaldo, gently bouncing off his thigh. In response, Rivaldo dropped to the ground clutching his face, while Ünsal looked on in amusement. Young-Joo spoke to the assistant referee, who was behind Rivaldo, before giving Ünsal his second yellow card.

Needless to say, the Turks weren’t impressed, with Güneş confronting the officials at full-time and having to be restrained by Şükür. The manager’s view on the officiating underlined his frustration: “We took control of the game but we could not control the referee.”

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Young-Joo would never officiate at the World Cup again while Rivaldo was fined just £5,000. Alas, despite their opening game defeat, the Turks had several positives to take out of the game. They had gone toe-to-toe with the World Cup favourites and on another day might have won.

Their match against Costa Rica six days later in Incheon was now vital. Defeat meant elimination after just two games, as Costa Rica had beat China 2-0 in their opening game.

The stakes riding on this game explains why the first half was so quiet. Turkey, without the suspended Alpay, managed to keep striker Paulo Wanchope quiet. Similarly, Costa Rica showed why they finished top of their World Cup qualifying group, with their 3-5-2 formation nullifying Turkey’s creative playmakers. However, the Turks broke the deadlock early in the second half courtesy of some deserved luck. Fatih Akyel’s cross in the box found Şaş, whose lay-off reached midfielder Emre Belözoğlu who sprinted into the box. His initial shot was blocked by Costa Rica’s defenders but the Turkish midfielder was quickest respond and convert the rebound.

Los Ticos desperately pushed for an equaliser as the second half wore on. Their manager, Alexandre Guimarães, rolled the dice with a double substitution, putting on striker Steven Bryce and midfielder Winston Parks. The changes would pay off with four minutes remaining as Turkey failed to clear a hopeful diagonal ball into the box. After a frantic goalmouth scramble, Parks took advantage to bundle the ball past Rüştü.

The draw against Costa Rica meant a high-scoring victory against China was paramount if they wanted to progress from the group stage. In addition, Costa Rica only had to avoid defeat against Brazil or at least a heavy loss to qualify ahead of Turkey. China, already eliminated after losing 3-0 to Brazil, would feel the full force of Turkey’s frustrations at the World Cup so far.

The game in Seoul was virtually over within 10 minutes. Just six minutes into the match, Ümit Davala’s hopeful ball was woefully dealt with by the Chinese defenders. Şaş would be the only player to show any composure by taking a touch before lashing the ball into the top corner. A few minutes later, Şaş would turn provider, as his inswinging cross was met by Bülent Korkmaz, which looped over Chinese keeper Jiang Jin.

Despite a few nervy moments, when China hit the post through striker Yang Chen, the Asians went down to 10 men just 13 minutes into the second half. Shao Jiayi, who came on as a substitute, clumsily raked his outstretched leg down the Achilles of Emre. Colombian referee Óscar Ruíz gave Jiayi a straight red, much to the midfielder’s shock.

Turkey would kill the game off with a few minutes remaining as Şaş provided yet another assist, his deep cross brilliantly volleyed in by Davala. Further celebrations would occur, for Brazil thumped Costa Rica 5-2 in Suwon, meaning Güneş’ side had qualified for the World Cup knockout stages – on goal difference – for the very first time. The players and coaches danced on the field in jubilation knowing they had made history.




The second round presented a new challenge for Turkey, as they crossed the Korean Strait to Japan where they faced the Blue Samurai in the last 16 in the town of Rifu. Over 45,000 fans, the vast majority of them Japanese, brought an incessant din hoping Japan could make history and advance to the quarter-finals.

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The fanatical yet rain-soaked crowd at Miyagi Stadium were soon silenced within 12 minutes. Turkey showed their potency once again from set pieces. Midfielder Ergün Penbe whipped the ball into the bo, and Davala was given time and space to power his header into the back of the net. 

With Japan falling behind, Turkey’s defensive bulwark of Alpay, Hakan Ünsal and Korkmaz stymied the Blue Samurai’s midfield talents of Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto and Shinji Ono. Turkey’s resoluteness in defence was matched by their opponent’s lethargy in attack – quite surprising in a World Cup knockout game in front of their fans.

The only real chance Japan fashioned was through a piece of individual magic, quite late in the first half, when Alex’s free-kick hit the exact point where the post and bar met. Oddly, he would be substituted at half-time, with the second period again seeing Japan’s inability to break through Turkey’s formidable defence and tactics of Güneş.

When the full-time whistle blew the Turkish players and coaching staff celebrated as wildly as they did when they beat China.



Just as Turkey were surprising everyone with their performances, so too were their next opponents, Senegal. Participating in their first World Cup, they had shocked the football world in the opening game of the tournament by defeating the holders France 1-0. Under the Frenchman Bruno Metsu, Senegal had won many fans with their brand of enthusiastic, daring and counter-attacking football. Salif Diao’s goal against Denmark showed how enterprising they could be if given a platform to do so.

Moreover, they also had a flair for the dramatic, as shown by their 2-1 win over Sweden after extra-time in the second round, thanks to Henri Camara’s golden goal. In addition, the Senegalese had a vibrant squad of youth, with 21 of the 23 players in their 20s and most of them playing their domestic football in Ligue 1.

History beckoned for both teams in the quarter-final in Osaka on 22 June. Victory for Senegal would mean they would eclipse their West African rivals Cameroon and become the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final. For Turkey, to reach the last four would be a continuation of an excellent tournament, which had lifted the reputation of the players and Şenol Güneş.

The opening stages of the game were quiet, as both sides probed each other, which was understandable seeing they had never met before. However, nearly 20 minutes into the game, Turkey would enjoy a slice of devilishly good luck. Senegal’s experienced full-back Ferdinand Coly launched a long throw-in towards the Turks’ 18-yard box. Midfielder Papa Bouba Diop, who bundled in the winner against France, won the ball ahead of his Turkish marker and flicked it on. El Hadji Diouf, then an exciting 21-year-old playing his club football at Lens, attempted a bicycle kick only for him to completely miss the ball.

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However, Khalilou Fadiga latched onto the loose ball, quickly unleashing a stinging half-volley towards goal. Unfortunately for Senegal, the eagerness of Henri Camara proved to be counterproductive as Fadiga’s strike beat Rüştü but not his teammate, and the ball rebounded off him merely two yards from goal. Camara scored from the rebound but the goal was immediately disallowed for offside – much to Turkey’s relief and Fadiga’s dismay. As the first half wore on, Turkey would impose themselves, soon creating the most clear-cut chance of the match.

Şaş, without a doubt Turkey’s best player of the group stages, showed his creative talents once more. A hopeful ball was crossed into the box, which was headed away powerfully by one of Senegal’s centre-backs, but only as far as the Turk, who controlled the bouncing ball with his chest. To the right was fellow midfielder Baştürk, embarking on a darting run towards the box. Almost immediately after Şaş trapped the ball, he lofted it into the path of Baştürk.

Goalkeeper Tony Sylva rushed out to try and clear it only for the nippy Bayer Leverkusen midfielder to head the ball past the exposed stopper. Suddenly, just as it seemed Turkey would score, out of nowhere came Omar Daf with a fantastic piece of defending. The full-back had failed to track Baştürk’s dart into the box yet had the presence of mind to run towards the goal past Sylva and heroically clear the ball off the line for a corner.

Turkey’s creative midfield couldn’t find a way to unlock Senegal’s defence in the second half but weren’t helped by Şükür’s inability to capitalise on presentable half chances. Midway through the second period, Güneş decided to take off the ineffective Şükür, replacing him with Ilhan Mansız.

Despite being 26, Mansız was a novice to international football. The German-born striker had only made his international debut for Turkey in a World Cup qualifier against Moldova in October 2001. His inclusion in the World Cup squad came off the back of a successful season at Beşiktaş. Mansız had hit the ground running after his move from Samsunspor the previous summer, scoring 21 goals in 30 league games.

His World Cup so far consisted of a few substitute appearances, mainly in the last quarter of the game, but he was unable to make a substantial impact. Limited opportunities in the group stages spurred Mansız to get himself noticed in the knockout stages. He nearly did so in the most spectacular way just a few minutes after coming on. Baştürk made another one of his darting runs and laid the ball off to Mansız at the edge of the box. The substitute hit a sweetly struck lob with his first touch, causing Sylva to backpedal desperately, but to Mansız’s dismay, the ball agonisingly went over the bar.

Turkey dominated the rest of the second half but couldn’t find a way to capitalise on their superiority in possession. When the referee blew for the end of normal time the question was could Senegal grind out a win in extra-time like they did against Sweden in the previous round? The answer came a few minutes later.

A hopeful punt into the box by Senegal was easily claimed by Turkey’s Rüştü. Almost immediately, the ‘keeper threw the ball to Arif Erdem, easily going past Daf and entering Senegal’s half. To Daf’s credit, he managed to tackle Arif cleanly, but the ball trickled to Davala on the right wing. The winger, sporting a distinctive mohawk during the World Cup, took one heavy touch before whipping in a low cross. Mansız instinctively made a near post run, catching his Senegalese marking cold, skilfully hooking the ball past Sylva and into the back of the net.

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Mansız was cock-a-hoop with delight as his teammates, coaching staff and Şenol Güneş himself piled on top of the substitute. In the stadium, but also back home in Turkey, people celebrated wildly as their country reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time. Mansız became a national hero overnight, a far cry from just 12 months earlier when the striker was playing for a mid-table club in the Süper Lig.




Turkey’s opponents for a place in the semi-final would be Brazil, who had overcome England in the quarters. However, while facing the Seleção in a World Cup semi-final can be a daunting task for any team, Güneş and his players had several reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, they had taken great comfort in their performance against Brazil in the group stages three weeks earlier. They had gone toe-to-toe with the best players in world football and came out with their reputations enhanced. The defence had gone from strength to strength too, keeping three clean sheets in a row. Even so, facing Rivaldo and Ronaldo would be a formidable task, as both players had already scored five goals in the tournament so far.

The semi-final was seen by some Turkish fans as potential redemption, notably after the perceived injustices Güneş felt had been inflicted on his team by the referee. The decision to incorrectly award the penalty after Luizão was felled by Alpay outside the box was bad enough, but Rivaldo’s playacting that got Ünsal sent off merely added salt to the wound. In addition, Ronaldinho’s red card against England in meant he was suspended, giving further optimism to the Turks.

The semi final in Saitama on 26 June began in similar fashion to the group stage fixture, with Turkey unbowed by their illustrious opponents, knowing a historic place in the World Cup final awaited them. Less than 20 minutes into the game, it would be Turkey who fashioned the first big chance.

Right-back Fatih Aykel had given his opposite number Roberto Carlos a testing examination so far. As Brazil cleared a set piece, Aykel collected the ball on the right wing and whipped a dangerous cross into the box. Alpay had stayed up in Brazil’s 18 yard box and was quicker than the static Lúcio. The Aston Villa defender’s glancing header skidded towards the bottom corner but Marcos pushed it away. 

Just over a minute later it would be Alpay doing the defending, as the Seleção looked to hit back after nearly conceding. Rivaldo collected the ball from midfield, quickly drawing out Turkey’s Korkmaz, who failed to cut out his pass to Ronaldo outside the box. As a result of Korkmaz being out of position, left back Ergun Penbe was forced to get tight to the Brazilian striker, opening up space on Brazil’s right side. Ronaldo saw the overlapping run of the Cafu into the space in Turkey’s box and duly passed.

As the captain took his first touch, the 32-year-old had two options: shoot or cross the ball to where Brazil’s front three of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Edílson lurked menacingly. Not lacking any confidence, Cafu decided to shoot with his second touch, hitting the ball hard and low. It hit Rüştü’s leg and bounced away safely for a corner, much to Korkmaz’s relief.

Throughout the first half, Brazil laid siege to Turkey’s goal, as Rivaldo pulled the strings and Ronaldo tested the opposition defence. It was only because of Rüstu’s heroics, brilliantly denying Ronaldo and Rivaldo in quick succession, that it remained goalless at half time.

Alas, just a few minutes into the second period, Turkey’s valiant resistance was broken. Gilberto Silva, a dependable insurance policy for Brazil due to their swashbuckling defenders, drove deep into Turkey’s half and played the ball to Ronaldo. As he received the ball outside the box, the striker didn’t seem to pose a threat, especially as he faced multiple defenders ahead of him.

With his second touch, Ronaldo skipped past Aykel, before driving into the penalty area. Defenders backed off the Brazilian as he entered the box, with at least three opposition players around him. Quick as a flash of lightning, Ronaldo toepunted the ball towards goal before his markers had time to block the shot. Bouncing along the grass, Rüştü was able to get a hand on it but could only direct it inside the post and into the net. Brazil’s bench erupted with joy, with Scolari passionately embracing a substitute, his team justly rewarded for their dominance thanks to Ronaldo’s moment of magic.

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Instead of trying to protect their lead, the Seleção went on the attack, eager to kill the game off. After Ronaldo’s goal, Güneş implored his players to push forward and find an equaliser.

Güneş saw enough, reacting to miss 10 minutes after the goal by Edílson’s by taking off Emre for Mansız. However, Brazil kept attacking in search for a second goal, Luizão – who came on for Ronaldo – spurning a chance by acrobatically volleying the ball over the bar when he had the time and space to take another touch. So long as the score stayed 1-0 Turkey still had a chance, and with 12 minutes to go, they began to turn the screw. Mansız’s speculative cross nearly caught out Marcos who hurriedly tipped the ball away for a corner. Turkey grew in confidence as the game entered the last 10 minutes.

Eight minutes of normal time remained when Turkey won a free-kick on the left wing. Dead balls had been a strong component of their game during the tournament, yielding chances and goals. With his right foot, Şaş whipped the ball into the box, bypassing the main throng of players in the middle. At the back of the group of players was Şükür who jostled with Roque úJnior at the edge of the six-yard box. All of a sudden, just as it seemed the ball had eluded the reach of Şükür, the striker brilliantly hooked his foot onto the ball and forced Marcos to parry it away for a corner.

As time became scarce, Turkey pushed forward desperately but were susceptible to the counter-attack. With four minutes of injury time to go, it was the last chance for Turkey to fashion a goalscoring opportunity. In the 92nd minute, it came. Roberto Carlos played a lackadaisical pass that was easily intercepted by Ergün. He sprinted towards the box, where he was harried by two Brazilians, eager to dispossess him and end the attack.

Mansız pounced on the loose ball and passed it to Şaş on the right wing. As the Galatasaray talisman controlled the ball, he made his way into the box to join Şükür, trying to get into a shooting position. Şaş took a touch to set himself up for a cross and whipped the ball in. Mansız had managed to slip between the centre-backs when the ball was launched into the box. Şaş’ delivery was hit with pace, meaning while Mansız was able to head the ball, the striker wasn’t in a position to attack it proper and headed over the bar from 12 yards out.

Mansız looked crestfallen, as did the Turkish fans in the crowd, knowing a glorious chance had been spurned. Soon after the referee blew the final whistle, Brazil’s players and coaching staff celebrated wildly at reaching their seventh World Cup final. As for Turkey, their players looked shattered and despondent, Şaş on the ground with his legs crossed ruefully wondering what might have been. Güneş’ words after the game echoed the emotional reaction and thoughts of his players: “We made fewer mistakes this time than in the first game against Brazil, but we still made mistakes going forward when we lost possession.”

It represented the end of a tournament neither countries would ever forget. They had confounded the experts and odds by reaching the semi-finals when few before the tournament gave them a chance. South Korea had dispatched two European heavyweights in Spain and Italy and with Turkey had earned the respect of the footballing world.

Turkey would have better luck in the third-place playoff against South Korea, defeating the co-hosts 3-2 in Daegu, where Şükür found redemption by scoring the fastest goal in World Cup history within 11 seconds. Mansız underlined what a fantastic tournament he had by scoring twice.




Turkey’s squad arrived home to a rapturous welcome by fans immensely proud of their countrymen’s efforts. Rüştü, Alpay and Şaş was named in the Team of the Tournament. Despite finishing third in Japan/South Korea, Turkey weren’t able to build on their efforts. Failure to qualify for Euro 2004 meant  Güneş was sacked by the Turkish Football Federation. However, he would weave his magic once again, winning the league with Beşiktaş twice in a row, recently steering them to the Champions League knockout rounds.

Since then, Turkey have only managed to qualify for European Championships, reaching the semis in 2008, but never the World Cup. In spite of this, what they achieved in the Far East was monumental and one of the greatest finals journeys in recent history. Whether Turkey can repeat those efforts in future World Cups is another matter altogether.

By Yousef Teclab  

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