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Turkey Hoping to Make a Mark at World Cup - 2002-05-03

It has been 48 years since Turkey appeared in the World Cup football finals. This year, the Turks had to win a playoff against Austria to make the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. However, as VOA's David Byrd reports, the Turks are set to make a mark in Group-C that includes China, Costa Rica and Brazil.

Turkey last played in the World Cup in 1954, but a concentrated rebuilding program has taken the Turkish squad to a respectable 24th in the world.

Coach Senol Gunes' team had to win a two-game playoff last year to make the World Cup, but blasted past Austria by an aggregate score of 6-0. The core of the Turkish team is drawn from the its first division clubs including Istanbul powers Galatasaray, Fenerbache, and Besiktas.

International football (soccer) commentator Derek Rae says that Turkey could be one of the teams that surprises opponents and fans at the World Cup.

"There's not an awful lot being said about them. But they qualified for the group with some style, and of course they have several players with top notch Champions League experience from Galatasaray's runs in recent season," he said. " But I think this is a team that should manage to get to the second stage without an awful lot of difficulty. The question is what happens to them after that."

Inter Milan striker Hakan Sukur is the most accomplished of the Turkish players, having scored six goals in Turkey's qualification run. However, Derek Rae says that the team could encounter some mental challenges playing in the first round in South Korea.

"One of the criticisms that has been leveled against Turkish club sides [and players] is that they do not travel well, that they depend so heavily upon the hostile atmosphere inside their own stadia. And of course that will be the case at the World Cup finals," he said.

Turkey's mettle is sure to be tested when it opens the World Cup against four-time champion Brazil June 3 in Ulsan, South Korea. Turkey then plays Costa Rica June 9 and China June 13.