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Gunes' critical acclaim

When Senol Gunes spoke of the pressures on England coach Sven Goran Eriksson ahead of Wednesday's Euro 2004 qualifying clash at the Stadium of Light, the messiah of Turkish football knew exactly what he was talking about.

He may be the most successful coach in Turkey's relatively brief footballing history, but despite rejuvenating and guiding his country to the 2002 World Cup - only the second time the Turks had reached the Finals - Gunes is still occasionally subjected to fierce criticism from his compatriots.

Having progressed to the World Cup with a play-off win over Austria after suffering a single defeat in qualification, Gunes may have been forgiven for expecting mass support as his side went into the Finals. But a 2-1 defeat in their opening match against Brazil was followed by a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica and his critics back home drew their knives, accusing the coach of mismanagement.

'We could not understand why we are in the World Cup and why we could not reflect our ambition to win to the pitch,' Turkish media reported. 'There is only one person who has to answer these questions: Senol Gunes.'

But the former Turkey goalkeeper had the last laugh by leading his unfancied team to the semi-finals with victories over China, Japan and Senegal.

A second defeat to Brazil - courtesy of one moment of Ronaldo brilliance - was no disgrace in the last four, and the third-place play-off win over co-hosts South Korea cemented a new-found footballing prestige for the Turkish nation.

While Gunes, who won 31 caps for his country, knows the importance of having a winning side and the grim fate that awaits a struggling coach.

Experience tells him that Eriksson could soon be on his way out should Wednesday night's Euro 2004 qualifier in Sunderland go badly wrong for England.

'I respect Mr Eriksson, but I understand his position too,' said Gunes. 'Expectations are very high and decisions might be made against him after the match. A good result for us might not be so good for him and all coaches know the price of success and failure.

'That decision could be made about Mr Eriksson.'

While the Turks have continued their World Cup success into their qualifying campaign, topping Group Seven with three consecutive wins and ten goals, England have struggled to impress against Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

Victory at the Stadium of Light will be a first over England - the country which first took football to Turkey in the late 19th century - and would cap the unprecedented success of Gunes' tenure by virtually securing qualification to Euro 2004.

Success, as they say, breeds success and Gunes has been used to triumph since his early days as an amateur 'keeper for Erdogdu Genclick.

After 12 years at the amateur outfit, Gunes signed up as a professional with Trabzonspor and went on to win six league championships and five Turkish Cups in his 15 seasons at the club, where he also began coaching in 1998.

Two runners-up finishes in the Turkish league and a shock 1994 UEFA victory over Aston Villa are the highlights of a 12-year club management career, which also included spells at lesser known Boluspor, Antalyaspor and Sakaryaspor before he stepped into Mustafa Denizli's shoes as national team boss..

The pressures of the Turkey job are indicated by Denizli's departure after Euro 2000, despite his team becoming the first to reach the last eight of any major tournament.

But Gunes had taken over with Turkey on the rise and the momentum was maintained with qualification for the World Cup finals - the first time they had reached the finals since Switzerland 1954.

The gutsy manager set about qualification, despite becoming unpopular after criticizing the fans' flagging support during the campaign, by taking the backbone of his players from the Galatasaray side that won the 2000 UEFA Cup and European Super Cup - adding experience from Besiktas and Fenerbahce.

Gunes remained faithful to a tried and trusted 3-5-2 formation with Hakan Sukur as the main striking threat, despite some diabolical performances from the 32-year-old at the World Cup.

Back in Turkey Sukur was considered a legend and the unpopular Gunes was forced to keep faith with the former Inter Milan and Parma forward to retain any remnants of home support, after some much-criticized substitutions in the opening two games.

Sukur was finally dropped after the World Cup but move to the Premiership with Blackburn Rovers and a return to form has also seen a return to Gunes' squad to face England.

But Sukur may soon have to relinquish his status Turkey's No 1 footballer with a number of youngsters bursting onto the scene and gunning for his accolade.

Leading the pack is Inter star Emre Belozoglu. The 22-year-old is already being dubbed the 'new Maradona' and if he can inflict half of the damage that the original exacted on England, Turkey have a great chance of victory.

A win would consolidate the Turks' seventh place in the FIFA World Rankings and complete the rise of a country whose football league did not adopt a standard format until the early 1950s.

But despite the Turks enjoying something of a footballing renaissance history weighs heavy on their shoulders.

They have yet to register a solitary goal against England in eight meetings.

  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.