How wrong can you be? Senol Gunes’s young side departed Baku for a presumably awkward inquest in Istanbul having suffered three defeats and conceded eight goals, scoring just one in reply.
All things are relative but this was Turkey’s best performance of three. Ultimately though they could not control Xherdan Shaqiri and appeared bamboozled by Vladmir Petkovic’s smart, mid-gamedecision to switch from a back three to a back four.
Having finished the group behind Wales on goal difference, Suiza must now hope to progress as one of the best third-placed finishers.
They certainly started well in Azerbaijan. With six minutes gone Haris Seferovic received the ball from Steven Zuber and was permitted ample time to swivel before squeezing a low, incisive shot just inside a post.
The ball’s journey to the back of the net took it through the legs of Merih Demiral and the Turkey defender will surely wince at replays highlighting the sluggishness of his reactions to the danger posed by Seferovic’s positioning.
A big part of the problems encountered by Gunes’s team were rooted in midfield where Kaan Ayhan frequently found himself overrun and his teammates struggled to handle the excellent Breel Embolo.
His blend of snake-hipped movement and intelligent hold-up play subdued the 20,000 odd Turkey fans gathered in Baku with their misery compounded when Ayhan was once again found wanting and Shaqiri put Petkovic’s side two up.
The Liverpool winger seemed to unnerve Turkey every time he took possession and Ayhan and friends looked petrified as Seferovic’s shot was blocked and Zuber sent the ball out the scorer’s way.
After taking a high-calibre steadying touch, Shaqiri, stationed just outside the area, used his supposedly weaker right foot to send a subtly curving shot arcing into the top corner. It was a finish that not only belonged at the very highest level but emphasised the gargantuan task facing Turkey. Their Group A goal difference now registered a distinctly unhealthy minus seven.
It has been an awful tournament for the supposed Euro 2020 dark horses but, for once, they started reasonably strongly, creating quite a few first-half chances, albeit mainly from long range.
Unfortunately for Gunes, Yann Sommer, Switzerland’s goalkeeper, proved equal to everything thrown at him, saving superbly from Burak Yilmaz and Mert Muldur. mientras tanto, at the other end, only a stellar save with an outstretched foot from Ugurcan Cakir came between Shaqiri and another spectacular goal.
It made for highly entertaining viewing but, not for the first time, Turkey’s defensive vulnerabilities had been cruelly exposed and the slumped, resigned, body language of Gunes’s players as they trudged out for the second half indicated they believed the game was up.
This impression was only reinforced as their manager and his staff traded despairing hand gestures. Gunes’s centre-halves, especially, were struggling to second-guess Switzerland’s attacking manoeuvres and relied on Cakir to bale them out once more, courtesy of a fine save from Embolo.
Petkovic’s decision to allow Shaqiri a free role in which the so-called “Alpine Messi” drifted between the lines, exploiting hitherto hidden pockets of space was paying rich dividends. The Liverpool man may not be into tracking back and often looks as if he is the sort of player who dozes off when managers offer defensive tutorials but, in the attacking sense, he is far from workshy.
As he ceaselessly prodded and probed for weaknesses in the Turkish backline, using those quick, clever feet to often dazzling effect, Shaqiri made the difference.
Fenerbahce’s Irfan Kahveci had hoped to fulfill a similar role for Turkey and the player representing arguably Gunes’s best chance of a minor miracle briefly dragged his side back into things. Once again the goal came from outside the area, with Kahveci beating Sommer thanks to a dipping left-foot shot unleashed after his thorough wrong-footing of Ricardo Rodriguez.
Finally Turkey sensed hope but, with Shaqiri around, pushing for an equaliser proved perilous and, sure enough, they came undone on the counterattack.
Hats off to Zuber for his third assist of the game after playing a cute one-two with Granit Xhaka before crossing for Shaqiri to shoot unerringly, first time and left-footed, from just inside the area.
Granit Xhaka subsequently hit the post from a free-kick but, with a goal difference of minus one, Switzerland had probably done just enough.