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One job’s enough: Fatih Terim one upset away from putting Turkey in UEFA’s playoffs

Oct 13, 2013, 9:04 PM EDT

Turkey's national soccer team manager Terim smiles during news conference in Tallinn Reuters

Fatih Terim’s become Turkish legend, which made his Sept. 24 dismissal so curious. Coming off back-to-back Super Lïg titles, the six-time league champion and winner of the 1999-2000 UEFA Cup was fired five matches into the new season. Though Gala had suffered an embarrassing 6-0 home loss to Real Madrid in Champions League, they were still undefeated (if only 2-0-3) in league. Something beyond the field must have forced him out.

In the days that followed, the story came out. The club acknowledged Terim hadn’t signed an offered contract extension. There were also reports he neglected to return communication from the club president, both of which fueled concern Terim was no longer focused on Galatasaray. The icon had, after all, agreed to take over the Turkish national team in August.

Though his dual role lasted just over a month, Terim’s unlikely to be dwelling on Galatasaray right now. That’s because, after Friday’s 2-0 win over Estonia, Turkey’s on the verge of an unlikely place in UEFA’s World Cup Qualifying playoffs. Taking their third win in as many games, Turkey’s vaulted into second in Group D, ahead of Romania on goal difference.

It’s a position that was unthinkable two months ago, with Terim’s appointment thought by many to be a mere attempt to salvage pride from this qualifying cycle. The team was 2-3-1 through sixth rounds and sat fourth in a group despite expectations they’d take the playoff spot. Instead both Romania and Hungary sat between the Turks and a playoff spot, leading to the dismissal of Abdullah Avcı. Terim was convinced to return for a third stint with the national team.

The appointment paid immediate dividends. Turkey routed Andorra at home (5-0) before pulling off a 2-0 upset of Romania in Bucharest on Sept. 10. Now Friday’s win, combined with Hungary’s 8-1 loss in Amsterdam, put Turkey (perhaps remarkably) back where they should have been all along: Second place. Win their final qualifier on Tuesday, and Turkey’s into the UEFA playoffs.

There is one small problem in Terim’s fairy tale. Those same Dutch that won by seven goals on Friday? They’ll be in Istanbul on Tuesday. If Terim can’t find a what to hand the Oranje their first loss of World Cup Qualifying, the Turks could be passed by Romania (hosting Estonia) or Hungary (hosting Andorra).

From a distance, those seems like long odds, but Turkey’s a better bet than the teams’ reputations would suggest. Under Avcı last September in Amsterdam, a Robin van Persie goal was all that separated the sides for 92 minutes. Luciano Narsingh’s late insurance spoiled Turkey’s chance to take an unlikely point, giving the Dutch a 2-0 win.

Though it was one of the Netherlands’ least-convincing performances of qualifying, it still showed the gap between the teams is smaller than most would think. Swap Amsterdam for Istanbul and Avcı for Terim, and is there a formula for Turkish success?

If so, Terim would move a step closer to another remarkable accomplishment – one more feat on an already loaded résumé. Nobody thought the Turks good enough to take full points from their last four qualifiers, yet here we are – Turkey on the verge of keeping their World Cup hopes alive into November.

Unfortunately, if the Dutch go get a result in Istanbul, the story becomes that of an icon who lost his club job but failed to make the World Cup.

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