There is a Spirit

“After Kerem Aktürkoğlu rolled the ball into the empty net to seal the match, fueled by the euphoria of happiness, I wrote the following message to my friends on my phone: ‘This time, there is a spirit.’”

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The Turkish national team seemed to have lost its competitive identity from successful days, marred by scandals and disasters both on and off the field in Euro 2016 and Euro 2020. Despite the players’ willingness to give their all for the national team regardless of their club performances, they struggled to translate their talents into the national jersey, resulting in unappealing games marked by media hype and antipathy. While qualifying as group winners for Euro 2024 under Kuntz and then Montella, the team was far from its former glory. However, Turkey has always had promising generations, notably in 2016 and 2021. Yet, something always seemed lacking, as if our spirit was drained and energy exploited. Factors like political involvement of stars before the 2017 referendum, unstable squads, media pressure, and the pandemic contributed to missed opportunities and mistakes.

Hosting Euro 2024 in Germany, a second home for us, offered a chance to reflect on the past and sparked some hope. But recent humiliating defeats against Austria and Hungary in March, coupled with a poor preparation phase, injuries, and unexpected squad choices by Montella, convinced us that little had changed and we might again leave empty-handed. Even the squad announcement before the Georgia match sparked discontent. However, from the first whistle, Mert’s goal, Samet’s contentious performance, and captain Hakan’s visibly committed display reignited tournament excitement in our hearts. The game’s flow, amid pouring rain, transported us back to 2008. Our national team displayed immense character. First, Arda’s goal regained the lead, then Samet’s crucial goal-line clearance sealed our goal. In the 90+7 minute, Kerem sprinted to an open goal, and our entire bench ran to our fans as Dortmund echoed with “Homeland.”

Of course, it’s crucial to remember it’s only the first match with evident weaknesses. Montella must learn lessons for upcoming games. Yet, Turkey must savor its first win in major tournament history and embrace the formula ahead: relentless progress, resilience in setbacks, and a bit of tournament luck. One thing is clear now: “There is a spirit.”

Yiğit Şen

Sports Editor