Turkey was on the verge of another traumatic event against Latvia last Monday. It was Burak Yılmaz's penalty that made the score 2-1 in the last minute and brought the three points the team desperately needed to compete with Norway for the World Cup ticket. Although coach Stefan Kuntz just started his job, I must say, the first half of the game, in particular, was a catastrophe for Turkey.
It was the seventh minute and Latvia was taking a corner kick. I looked at Turkey's defensive positioning. They were defending an area in two lines of four. The first line was naturally waiting deep down with Çağlar Söyüncü and Merih Demiral in the center. In the second line, however, the pairings were formed horribly: Watching Kerem Aktürkoğlu, who is only 1.73 meters (5 feet 6 inches) tall, defending Vladislavs Gutkovskis at 1.87 meters was painful. Roberts Uldrikis, who is 1.98 meters tall, was also marked by Berat Özdemir who is 1.87 meters.
Latvia took six corners in the first 20 minutes and hit the ball in three attempts, two of them being dangerous. Demiral cleared one off the line. In almost every corner kick, Gutkovskis and Uldrikis somehow hit the ball. Turkey conceded two set-piece goals from Latvia in Istanbul and the man who landed those two set balls was Uldrikis.
Latvia played seven matches in Group G before this game. In both games against the Netherlands, its possession was at 22% and 24%. The same figure was 30% against Norway, 36% against Turkey and 39% against Montenegro. It had two shots on goal against Norway and four against the Netherlands in all games.
However, against Turkey last Monday, the Latvians had a 65% possession in the first half.
With a total squad value of 8 million euros ($9.28 million), Latvia possessed the ball way more than Turkey, which has a squad worth more than 300 million euros. Why? Because Turkey couldn't get the ball down and could not create a pass circulation. Latvians excelled in the air and kicking the ball to the troposphere every time did not help Turkey.
At the end of this awful first half, I hoped that Turkey would make at least two or three changes. It did not happen. Left-winger Aktürkoğlu made the rival right back Robert Savalnieks look like a star in the first half. That is how Turkey conceded the goal in the second half. Zeki Çelik played a bad half, so did Orkun Kökçü. But they all started the second half. Finally, Turkey decided to make a substitution in the 65th minute and from that point on, the team started to play something which looked like a game.
With the return to 4-4-2 in the 65th minute, Turkey finally started to act like a team. Wing-backs crowded the attacks and took risks. When Kuntz brought Serdar Dursun, a man who could deal with the Latvian defenders, Turkey started to keep the ball forward. When you see the last half hour of the match, one cannot help but think: Could Turkey not turn to 4-4-2 in the last half an hour in Istanbul? Did Turkey have to hit rock bottom in Latvia to get out of that awfully anxious mood? I wish Turkey had taken these risks with more courage in the previous five games.