Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 11/10
In the seventh round of the qualifications for the World Cup in Qatar next year, in Group G, Turkey will play host to Norway at the the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in Istanbul on Friday evening.
Turkey started the qualifications process in the best way possible. They triumphed 4-2 at home against group favourites Netherlands, and thrashed Norway away by 0-3 (Ozan Tufan struck twice, either side of a goal by Caglar Soyuncu, with Norway midfielder Kristian Thorstvedt getting sent off 11 minutes before the end of the 90). However, they ended the March international break with a somewhat disappointing 3-3 draw at home against minnows Latvia.
That disappointment was, however, nothing compared to the one they went through at the Euros this summer. Having been placed in Group A with Italy, Wales and Switzerland, they lost all three matches and went out of the tournament without a single point.
Senol Gunes’s team continued the qualifications in September with a 2-2 draw at home against Montenegro and beat Gibraltar away by 0-2, before Netherlands got their revenge with a 6-1 thrashing in Amsterdam. In that match, they were 3-0 and a man down by halftime, as Davy Klaasen struck within a minute from kickoff, Memphis Depay added to their misery twice, and Soyuncu got his marching orders. Depay completed his hat-trick soon after the break, and Guus Til and Donyell Malen put the finishing touches on the Dutch victory, before Cengiz Under provided pale consolation in injury time.
That match was the last one with Gunes in charge of the team. He was relieved of duty three days later, and Stefan Kuntz has been appointed in his place.
As things stand, Turkey are currently third in the group with 11 points, two less than Netherlands and Norway.
Kuntz won’t be able to call upon Soyuncu or Ozan Kabak in defence, as well as midfielder Orkun Kokcu; all three are suspended. Initially called up, striker Kenan Karaman has been forced to withdraw from the squad through injury.
Merih Demiral is therefore likely to be partnered by Kaan Ayhan in the heart of the back line, while 23-year-old Berat Ozdemir will be hoping to make his international debut in midfield. Captain Burak Yilmaz is expected to lead the line upfront, joined by Yusuf Yazici and Hakan Calhanoglu.
As for Norway, the home defeat to Turkey has been the only such result they’ve had in these qualifications so far. Before that, they had beaten Gibraltar away by 0-3, and afterwards, they beat Montenegro away by 0-1, drew 1-1 at home against Netherlands, beat Latvia away by 0-2, and eventually smashed Gibraltar 5-1 at home. They didn’t qualify for the Euros this summer.
With 13 points to their name, they are second to Netherlands on goal-difference at the moment in the group. They haven’t taken part in a World Cup since 1998, and this seems to be their big chance to book a place in Qatar. Nothing seems impossible for a team that has Erling Haaland in their ranks.
The 21-year-old has been nothing short of a sensation since Borussia Dortmund signed him from RB Salzburg in January 2020. His numbers are truly hard to believe – this season, he has 15 goal involvements (11 goals and four assists) in only eight matches for the Bundesliga side in all competitions.
However, Norway travel to Turkey without Haaland, who is absent through a muscle issue. The problems don’t stop there for coach Stale Solbakken – his front line is further decimated by the absences of Alexander Sorloth and Joshua King. Right-back Jonas Svensson is also out, as is centre-back Kristoffer Ajer.
Much will depend on Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard, who will likely play through the middle with Patrick Berg providing protection in a defensive midfield role. Mohamed Elyounoussi should start on one of the attacking flanks, and in the absence of Haaland, Sorloth and King, Solbakken might decide to put Thorstvedt to play closest to the opposition goal.
Turkey were rather convincing in Norway, and though they haven’t looked nearly as good since, their players will likely do the best they can to leave a positive impression on the new coach. Further more, the game is of huge importance for the home side – a big chance to overtake Norway in the race for the top two spots in the group.
Kuntz’s team will also be heartened by the absence of Norway’s top three attackers, and they really should come out of the contest with three points.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 11/10
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