The under-17 football team of Turkey will look to replicate its success at the continental level — they reached the semi-finals of the UEFA U-17 European Championships in 2008, 2010 and 2017 — on the global stage when they kick off their campaign in the FIFA U-17 World Cup beginning Friday.
However, as they gear up for their opening match against New Zealand at the DY Patil Stadium here on Friday, coach Mehmet Hacıoglu feels his side, expected to qualify from Group B which it shares with Mali and Paraguay besides New Zealand, is at a physical disadvantage.
“All groups are strong but in football it’s important to respect your rivals and that’s what we’re doing. The other teams are physically stronger than us but we’ve made certain important adjustments in our preparation and, above all, we have talented players,” said Mehmet.
“The first adjustment we made was with match schedule of the youth leagues in our country. We made sure they start earlier than usual so we can keep up with the fitness levels of other teams, and we also had a long training camp in Qatar and Doha so the players get used to the climate here in India,” he said on combating the disadvantage faced by his players.
In the 2017 UEFA U-17 European Championships held in Croatia, Turkey was drawn in the group of death with Spain, Italy and the home side in Group A. Victories against Croatia and Italy in the group stage were enough to send them through to the knockout stage where a 1-0 victory against Hungary confirmed their place in the 2017 U-17 World Cup.
Turkey have made two appearances at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2005 and 2009, finishing a respectable fourth in 2005, and in 2009 they lost 5-3 to Colombia in the quarter-finals.
Despite experiencing success recently, Mehmet says it is important to manage expectations while keeping the competitive edge alive. “We will take things step by step. We did so in the European Championships final and reached the semis. So, for the World Cup finals, our target will be to get out of the group stage and then take it from there,” he said.
“I agree with the fact that these players have to enjoy themselves first and foremost and winning the World Cup is a bonus. However, even if you’re playing on the streets with stones, you would still want to win, that’s human nature,” he added.