SAITAMA, Japan -- Maybe the soccer world has this whole thing backward. Maybe it's the Turks everyone should focus on for their World Cup semifinal with Brazil.
Turkey's surprising progress at this wild World Cup, their first since 1954, has been highlighted by a strong defense, outstanding goalkeeping, timely scoring and surging confidence. Indeed, the Turks believe they not only belong in Wednesday night's semifinal, but in Sunday's final, too.
"Now we are one of the best four in the world," said defender Alpay Ozalan. "We want everyone to applaud us.
"We have to prepare very well for the Brazil game. We have great morale, and with that morale I think the time is ripe for us to beat Brazil and add a new golden page to our history."
Many of the golden pages in World Cup history belong to the Brazilians. They are the only owners of four world titles, and even though they struggled just to get here, they now are favored for a fifth.
Turkey is not intimidated by Brazil's unequaled record. It wasn't weak-kneed when it lost 2-1 in the opening round to the South Americans - on a controversial late penalty kick - and it certainly isn't shaking at the thought of facing them again.
"We have no fear of Brazil. It's just the name that's big," said midfielder Umit Davala, whose cross was knocked home by Ilhan Mansiz for the winning goal in overtime against Senegal, setting up this rematch. "Brazil have won the World Cup four times, but we're not afraid of them or any team.
"Brazil have to fear us."
Respect them, perhaps. But the Brazilians, even without Ronaldinho, the star of their 2-1 quarterfinal victory against England, aren't likely to fear anyone, either.
However, they will have trouble breaking down a Turkish defense that has yielded only three goals in the tournament and none in the last three games. And even when they get good chances, Turkey's superb goalkeeper Rustu Recber will present more problems.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has seen his team's defense jell, particularly against England. After Ronaldinho was given a red card, which means he's suspended for Wednesday's semifinal, the Brazilians were impenetrable playing a man down.
"We're a team," Scolari said. "We have friendship, affection, a common goal. There's no other way to win."
Scolari senses something else about his players.
"I have never seen a national a fighting spirit so strong, so vibrant," he said. "To the people of Brazil: Believe. Believe, because we can do much more. Not only football, but as a nation."
Of course, for Turkey this has been a rare chance to be in the spotlight - in soccer and as a nation. The Turks became a soccer force in the late 1990s and their top club, Galatasaray, won the 2000 UEFA Cup.
While considered one of the longest shots from Europe in the World Cup, this likely is not a one-shot deal. The national team has some depth, is balanced up front, in midfield and, especially, on defense.
It almost certainly won't be another 48 years for Turkey to return to the World Cup.
Not that their players had doubts they could succeed in the nation's second trip to soccer's showcase.
"If we had stated our aims openly when coming here, they would have called us charlatans," said Mansiz. "Those who would have called us charlatans will now slam us if we return without the cup."
© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us