Turkey seeks crowd-pleasing football victory over Wales
After a 3-0 loss to Italy without even a shot on target, Turkey will face a Wales team looking to build on its opening draw when the teams meet Wednesday at the European Championship.
Azerbaijan is an ally of Turkey and the two countries have close cultural ties, so a large delegation of travelling fans and locals is expected. A quiet, mostly empty venue for Wales' 1-1 draw with Switzerland could now have an intimidating away-game atmosphere.
“The people of Baku, they are just making us feel that sensation of being the host of the game. So I would like to say thank you to my Azeri brothers for that,” Turkey coach Şenol Güneş said via an interpreter.
Wales is expecting the fans to cheering for the other side.
“To be playing in these tournaments, you want to be playing in front of crowds and it’ll be nice to have that atmosphere,” Wales captain Gareth Bale said. “I think you feed off the atmosphere. Of course, they’re probably not saying some great things or booing us or whatever, but I guess you want to silence them. Gives you that bit more motivation."
Turkey came into the tournament with high hopes and a string of players coming off good seasons at club level. Burak Yilmaz and Zeki Çelik won the French title with Lille, while Hakan Calhanoglu had a strong season with AC Milan, as did Çağlar Söyüncü with Leicester.
That optimism evaporated quickly against Italy. The 35-year-old Yilmaz couldn't find space among the Italy defence and didn't have the pace to unsettle the back line. Turkey clung on until the 53rd minute, when Merih Demiral scored an own-goal.
Turkey's attacking efforts amounted to one shot off target and two blocked.
Turkey can draw on its own history for inspiration. It has lost the opening game at every one of its five European Championship appearances, but in 2008 still bounced back to reach the semifinals. Güneş drew a comparison to the Portugal team of 2016, which barely qualified from the group stage after three draws but went on to win the tournament.
Güneş said he could stick with the same starting 11 from the Italy game, or that Ozan Kabak or Kaan Ayhan could be brought in to the defense.
Turkey's population is estimated at about 84 million, or 26 times that of Wales, one of the biggest gulfs in size between any two teams at Euro 2020. Being one of the tournament's smaller teams means Wales is used to playing as the underdog. Morrell said that builds the kind of team spirit which took the Welsh to the Euro 2016 semifinals.
“I think we’re a team and a country that has to be together because otherwise there’s bigger nations, there’s nations with more money, more people, a bigger pool of players, that are going to be battling us,” said Wales midfielder Joe Morrell, who set up Kieffer Moore’s equalizer in the game against the Swiss.
“We’ve got a group of lads here, as in 2016, that are really together. That benefits us in the 90th minute when you look across and you see someone blowing a little bit, as a few were yesterday including myself (against Switzerland). It helps drag you through knowing that you’re going to do anything for your teammates.”
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to be present at the match, a senior Azerbaijani diplomat told AFP.
On Tuesday, the Turkish leader signed an agreement to boost ties with Ankara's ally Azerbaijan. This was revealed in the symbolic city of Shusha, retaken with Turkey's assistance during fighting with ethnic Armenian separatists in November.