By Can Erozden
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey can progress past the group stages of Euro 2016 despite their lack of star players, a leading sports commentator has told Anadolu Agency.
Ugur Meleke, who writes for the Hurriyet newspaper, said Turkey’s squad has one stand-out player -- Barcelona’s Arda Turan -- but the team’s spirit and sharp passing style would see them through to the second round.
Turkey face Croatia, the Czech Republic and European champions Spain in Group D.
“Our group is difficult,” Meleke said. “But four points will be absolutely enough, as the best third-placed teams will qualify for the next stage. Three points may be enough as well. I think we will be in the Round of 16.”
In this year’s competition, which has been expanded to include 24 teams, the winners and runners-up of each of the six groups will go forward, as well as four teams that come third in their group.
“We are not among the main heavyweights of European football,” Meleke said. “England, Spain, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and Portugal -- they go to all the tournaments.”
However, he added, Turkey are among Europe’s second-tier and as such stand a good chance of success when the tournament kicks off in France next week.
“The Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, Greece, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Wales, Sweden, Switzerland and Romania -- we are among them,” the pundit said. “When they have a [good] generation, they can go, otherwise they fail.
“Denmark could not go to France because they did not have a generation. We went to Euro 2008 as we had a good generation. We have another generation now and we advanced to Euro 2016.”
- Similar players
Meleke highlighted the Turkish team’s drive and tenacity as their winning characteristics and compared their passing style to the Spanish team that won the World Cup and European Championship.
“Hakan Calhanoglu, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Arda Turan, Volkan Sen, Selcuk Inan and Cenk Tosun are the players joining the passing and the team looks like Spain's 2010 and 2012 squad, as they approach the goal with passes,” he said.
“We have many similar players. We can add Yunus Malli and Emre Mor to this group of players.”
He added: “Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and David Silva were similar and dominated Europe with passing.
“Arda and Hakan especially are integral parts of the team. Arda, Hakan and Yunus are the top league players. They are used to playing big matches. They will be less frightened and this makes them come with a lot of self-confidence. I expect them to make a serious contribution.”
Hakan Calhanoglu is Bayer Leverkusen’s playmaker and free-kick specialist while Yunus Malli is another attacking midfielder who plays for Mainz in the Bundesliga.
Meleke also praised Borussia Dortmund’s central midfielder Nuri Sahin. “He was one of the Dortmund players playing in the Champions League final in the [Jurgen] Klopp era. He is not a regular member of Turkey's starting 11 but he acts maturely… Any team wants a player like him on the bench.”
Turkey have performed well in recent tournaments, reaching the quarter-finals in Euro 2000 and coming among the final four in the World Cup two years later and in Euro 2008.
Among Turkey’s group opponents, Spain are the strongest and among the favorites to win the competition, having won it in 2008 and 2012 as well as winning the World Cup in 2010.
- Familiar Czechs
Croatia are seen as one of the tournament’s better sides and can count on big names such as Real Madrid midfielders Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic of Inter Milan and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic. They reached the quarter-finals of the contest in 1996 and 2008.
The Czech Republic finished top in Turkey’s qualifying group and features veterans Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, who play in goal and midfield, respectively, for Arsenal.
The squad also features a number of players familiar to Turkish fans -- former Fenerbahce defender Michal Kadlec, Bursaspor players Tomas Sivok and Tomas Necid and Kasimpasa midfielder David Pavelka.
They were beaten by Germany in the 1996 final, were semi-finalists in 2004 and reached quarter-finals in 2012.
Reflecting on the wider tournament, Meleke named Germany, France and Belgium as his favorites.
He also selected French midfielder Paul Pogba, his compatriot Antoine Griezmann and German veteran Thomas Muller as the players he expects to make a major contribution.
“Except these stars, Bayern Munich’s French winger Kingsley Coman, Schalke’s German winger Leroy Sane… Croatian Marko Pjaca and Tottenham’s English midfielder Dele Alli could be the stars of Euro 2016.”
The tournament runs from June 10 to July 10.