A fiery, frenetic affair saw the Turkish national team prevail from yet another of the epic matches they habitually partake in. With two wins from two games, Turkey will push Germany all the way in the EURO 2012 qualification race.
Initially, I was left stunned by the Belgium line-up, as Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Daniel van Buyten and Thomas Vermaelen – all of whom play centre-back at club level – started.
Add to that list Timmy Simons, who can also play in defence, Anderlecht right-back Guillaume Gillet, plus Everton’s defensive screen Marouane Fellaini, and I was convinced coach Georges Leekens had lost his marbles.
However, his players amalgamated into a hybrid of 4-2-3-1 – one winger, a very high-standing forward, a stupendously mobile central attacker, a right-sided midfielder who acted as a third defensive-midfielder, and a deep and flat back-four.
Guus Hiddink was taking charge of his first competitive game on Turkish soil, and rightfully appeased a vociferous crowd by sending his team out to attack with infectious gusto.
The Dutchman’s formation was a deviation of 4-5-1, with the midfield dissected into a 2-1-2 – Emre Belözoğlu seeking pockets of space all over the middle of the park, Hamit Altıntop veering inside, and Arda Turan pinning Alderweireld back.
Both full-backs provided the home side with width, although save for Arda Turan’s impeccable incision and delivery, Turkey were often ponderous and wasteful in the final-third.
This was an inevitability given the fact Belgium’s box was swamped with defenders, yet Turkey rarely even got that far – the Lowlanders were fouling by rota, and former Newcastle United man Emre came in for some particularly brutal treatment.
Turkey gave as good as they got physically, and therefore, the game nosedived into bittiness as revenge became the number one priority. Thankfully, Moussa Dembélé and Turan were still determined to play a bit, their magic runs exciting both sets of supporters alike.
As stated above, Hiddink went with today’s tactical tenor – inside-out wingers flanked by full-backs who help sustain the width. Yet the reason as to why Turan is so good is that he can put crosses in from the byline, and cut inside to deadly effect.
Leekens adhered to more old school tactics by playing the left-footed Dembélé on the left. The new Fulham man masterfully attacked the space abandoned by Sabri Sarıoğlu, and gave Belgium a cutting-edge.
However, the clumsy Romelu Lukaku was starved of support in the box, rendering Dembele’s deliveries all too frequently wasted.
Another of the visitors’ tactics was to pump the ball in air at Fellaini to flick on for either Dembélé or Lukaku. They’d then hold it up in the channels, attempting to win corners. Unsurprisingly, the burly Belgians scored both their goals from set-pieces, Daniel van Buyten with a brace of headers – first handing his nation the lead, then briefly making it 2-2. Alderweireld assisted the former via a right-footed, inswinging corner, and the second came from a Kevin Mirallas free-kick.
Alas, Trabzonspor ‘keeper Onur Kıvrak was at fault on both occasions. First, he meekly allowed van Buyten to pin him on the line, before the Bayern man stepped out to steer his header goalwards.
On the second, Kıvrak threw himself into swatting thin air: Lukaku showed great speed and awareness in looping his header sideways across the face of goal for van Buyten to place in the simplest of equalizers.
Two defensive errors also contributed to the home side’s goal haul. This will have irked Leekens because elsewhere, his team’s tight zonal marking system cleared every Turkish delivery into the box.
That marking dictat consisted of maintaining a diagonally straight line across the edge of the six-yard-box – the deeper end in the side of the box from where the delivery came.
Turkey maintained the same attacking idea throughout – setting up a similar number of darters in line with the penalty spot, thus forming a No Man’s Land between the banks.
Belgium towered to clear every Emre and Altıntop delivery, yet Turan’s winner illustrated that abandoning the disciplined sitting proved too much like hard work. A cleared ball saw the Belgium unit remain at a standstill. Mirallas was then slow in closing the one-two between Altintop and Gökhan Gönül, and the latter drove a diagonal left-footed ball into the box for Turan to turn in.
As for the strike that handed Turkey a 2-1 lead, Vermaelen found himself narrow when Altıntop was fed on the right-side of the final-third. His low cross then somehow crawled under two extremely flat-footed centre-backs to locate an unattended Semih Şentürk.
Turkey’s initial goal had been preceded by sturdier resilience at least. The beleaguered Alderweireld, tormented by Turan all night, allowed the winger to feed the speedy overlap of İsmail Köybaşı.
The pull-back wasn’t great and miscalculated the movement of the forwards. However, it was sharp enough to make the clearance last-ditch, and Altintop needed two tries in order to bury the loose ball.
Although key in shaping the way the game went, Kompany was shown a red card came when the scores were tied at one-apiece. So therefore, I’d argue that Hiddink’s tactical tinkering at half time was more vital in securing Turkey’s win.
Realising his team’s possession was in areas where Belgium were comfortable, Hiddink brought on Şentürk. He went 4-4-2, thus giving all of Belgium’s defenders something to do, and increasing Turkey’s presence in the final-third.
Sterner tests certainly await Hiddink’s men – the trip to Germany in the next batch of qualifiers, for example. Revenge will definitely be on the mind after that agonising defeat in the semi-final stage of EURO 2008.