Hakan Calhanoglu back at home at Euro 2024 to guide Turkey to the last 16

As he approaches the center square before kick-off at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on Wednesday, Turkish pennant in hand, palm outstretched towards his rival captain and the referee, Hakan Calhanoglu may well pause for a moment to remember a moment of inspiration.

Just outside that center circle, the Turkish captain scored a stunning goal that is still talked about in Hamburg. It hit it more than 40 meters from the target, and its flight path was so full of unexpected deviations and sudden dives that it seemed to defy the laws of physics.

Calhangolu’s wonder goal, in a season-ending Bundesliga match for Hamburg against Borussia Dortmund, announced his special talent with a dead ball to the wider world. In the decade that followed, Calhanoglu became recognized as one of the game’s great virtuosos on free kicks and corners, and as a masterful passer over ambitious distances, strengths that kept him away from Hamburg, where, at 20, he often helped avoid relegation.

After his departure – a difficult start – the club struggled in various battles against the drop, but the arena that Calhangolu revisits today, leading a Turkey worried about its progress towards the knockout stage of Euro 2024, is long accustomed to hosting club matches in Germany. second level.

For Turkey-Czech Republic, a lively atmosphere at the Volksparkstadion is guaranteed. Hamburg is home to the fourth largest urban concentration of Germans of Turkish origin and, in a country where the community numbers around seven million people, support for the Crescent-Stars at the championship so far has been remarkable.

This community has rarely had such importance at the top of sport in Türkiye and Germany.

Calhanoglu, who just won the Italian league title last season with Inter Milan, was born in Mannheim, his parents having left Anatolia to put their skills to use in the German job market which was eagerly recruiting in Turkey since the 1960s.

As it turned out, the family would also bequeath many future sporting talents to their adopted country. Hakan’s brother, Muhammed, also pursued a professional football career; just like his cousin Kerim, who represented Germany at various youth levels.

The same choice, Germany or Turkey, was offered to Hakan Calhanoglu, whose creative passage and improvisation in Hamburg earned him first prized by Bayer Leverkusen – beneficiary of a contested transfer from Hamburg to summer 2014 – then by AC Milan, then by Inter. where his adaptation to a deeper midfield role further advanced his reputation.

His stock in German club football remains high. In the background of the Euro, Bayern Munich wants to attract Calhanoglu, now 30 years old, to the Bundesliga. Inter will only let him leave for a very significant fee.

Meanwhile, the German national team has had reason over the past five or six years to regret Calhanoglu’s decision, made as a teenager, to represent the country of his heritage rather than the one of his birth. They could have settled for a passer like him.

Germany’s blessing is that Ilkay Gundogan, whose grandfather Ismail left Balikesir in Turkey to work as a miner in the Ruhr, chose to play for his native country. The former Barcelona and Manchester City star is the captain of the host country of this Euro, leading a team which also includes Emre Can and Deniz Undav of Borussia Dortmund, other footballers of Turkish origin.

Calhanoglu’s Turkish teammates include the German-born quartet of Salih Ozcan, Kaan Ayhan, Cenk Tosun and teenager Kenan Yildiz, also in Serie A with Juventus.

Türkiye 0 Portugal 3 – player ratings

All are part of a distinguished lineage of Turkish-German players, many of whom faced growing prejudice across the sport. Mesut Özil, a notable contributor to Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph, retired from representing the country four years later with the observation: “I’m a German when we win and an immigrant when We are losing “. Özil and Gundogan were criticized by the German Football Federation for posing for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London in 2018.

Ozil’s direct contemporary, Nuri Sahin, who is of German origin but played for Turkey from youth level through more than 50 senior caps, was criticised in Germany for his choice of national jersey when he was a young midfielder, playing for Dortmund, and, like Ozil, later signed for Real Madrid.

Sahin, who is just 35, remains a prominent and prominent figure in the sport: earlier this month he was named the new coach of Dortmund, second only to Bayern in the pecking order of clubs. better supported in Germany and second behind Real Madrid. three weeks ago, in the UEFA Champions League.

For Calhanoglu, the task in the city he once called home will be to channel the vociferous local support that has accompanied Turkey through its group stage matches so far, and to re-establish the command his team showed in his opening match 3-1. victory over Georgia.

An error-strewn 3-0 defeat to Portugal in their second match left Turkey vulnerable heading into matchday three. A defeat against the Czechs could mean an early exit. Avoiding defeat would guarantee second place, behind the Portuguese in Group F, and a round of 16 place in Leipzig on Monday.

Turkey will be without Abdulkerim Bardakci, suspended in central defense, and wonder if first-choice goalkeeper Mert Gunok, who missed Portugal’s defeat through injury, will be ready to return. Much attention will be paid to whether or not Real Madrid starlet Arda Guler is in the starting XI. Guler, 19, scored a sensational goal to regain the lead against Georgia, but was left out of the eleven in the next match.

“I didn’t want to put him in danger for more than 30 minutes,” explained Turkish coach Vicenzo Montella, citing a slight injury suffered by the striker. The fans made it clear during the Portugal game that they wanted to see Guler on the pitch for more than his final 20 minutes, chasing a three-goal deficit.

“We have to look to the future,” Calhanoglu said. “We gave away goals against Portugal but these things can happen. We now have to focus on second place in the group.

Updated: June 26, 2024, 7:15 a.m.

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