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Euro 2000 Preview Ireland must deny Sukur

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

If any one Turkish player possesses the ability to throw a wrench in Ireland’s Euro 2000 qualification plans at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, it is Hakan Sukur, the 28-year-old super-striker.

Sukur was Turkey’s top scorer in the group qualifiers with four goals, including the strike that consigned Germany to a 1-0 defeat in forlorn Bursa, where the second leg playoff with Ireland will be played next Wednesday.

He sent out a warning of sorts to the Republic last Tuesday with a virtuoso performance in Turkish club Galatasaray’s dramatic 3-2 Champions League victory over Italian giants AC Milan in Istanbul.

With four minutes to play and Galatasaray trailing by 2-1, Sukur scored with a header in the 87th minute, then won a penalty (90th) from which Umit Davala netted the Turks’ winner.

Sukur’s forte are his pace and clinical finishing, and he should test the Irish defense.

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Lesser regarded than Sukur, but still worth keeping an eye on, is Erdem Arif, who stunned Northern Ireland with a hat trick in their Group 3 meeting in Belfast two months ago.

Like the Republic, Turkey were on the verge of qualifying for the Euro 2000 finals outrightly, but let the door slam shut on them after one bad result — a goalless tie in their penultimate match in Moldova.

Still, the Turks fancy their chances in the playoffs and are delighted that the decisive second leg will be played in Turkey.

"We intend to do our best over the two matches, and the fact that the first leg is in Dublin certainly favors our cause," Turkish coach Mustafa Denizli said.

"Istanbul is certainly going to be an exciting place for the second leg, where I am sure our supporters will give the Irish a friendly reception."

Denizli nonetheless conceded that the Republic would be no pushovers.

"This will be a difficult tie for both teams over two legs," he remarked. "We know the manner in which the Irish lost their chance of automatic qualification against the Macedonians."

Turkey finished runners-up in Group 3, which was won by Germany, while Ireland finished a point behind Yugoslavia in Group 8.

Ireland and Turkey have met nine times at full international level. It has been akin to a turkey shoot in the Republic’s favor, with the Turks’ lone victory coming 32 years ago in Ankara.

The two sides last met in the Euro ’92 qualifiers, with Ireland following up their 5-0 Dublin rout with a 3-1 decision in Istanbul. Current Irish boss Mick McCarthy played in that series.

Auld enemies

Scotland host England on Saturday in what is being hyped as the highlight of the playoffs to decide the remaining four places in Euro 2000 next summer. The match in Glasgow continues the oldest rivalry in international soccer.

Since 1872, England and Scotland have met 108 times, with the English winning 44 times, the Scots 40 and 24 matches drawn. England won the last encounter 2-0 in Euro ’96.

"It’s a special fixture with an atmosphere all of its own and has been played all too rarely in the last few years. It is just a shame that only one of us will be going on to the finals," said English coach Kevin Keegan, whose side emerged from Group 5 after finishing second to Sweden.

Scotland placed second in Group 9 to the Czech Republic.

Cautious Danes

Danish manager Bo Johansson is optimistic, albeit cautiously, over the 1992 European champs match-up with Group 6 runners-up Isr’l.

"It’s a good draw for us but we are taking nothing for granted. Isr’li football has improved a lot in the last few years and they will be tough opponents," he said.

Denmark were second in Group 2.

The fourth playoff pits Ukraine against Slovenia.

All the return fixtures will be played next Wednesday, with the four aggregate winners joining the 12 countries already through to the finals.

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