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   June 25, 2002 | 1230 IST


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Turkey rally round misfiring Sukur

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Turkish players are rallying round faltering striker Hakan Sukur, urging fans and a sceptical press to have faith in arguably Turkey's greatest ever player.

Hakan Sukur missed an extravagant number of chances in Turkey's quarter-final 1-0 win against Senegal and it was his second half replacement Ilhan Mansiz who scored the extra-time goal that earned them a semi-final place against Brazil on Wednesday in only their second World Cup.

Turkey's captain Hakan Sukur (L) and Senegal's Ferdinand Coly But despite press calls for Ilhan to start, Hakan's team mates still have faith in their country's captain, Turkey's highest scorer and their most-capped player.

"Hakan Sukur is a great player and his contribution to Turkish football cannot be denied. He may have missed a few chances but those are chances we create every match and he'll make up for them in the next match," said defender Alpay Ozalan.

"I am sure that he will go on scoring the goals that got us here in the first place," he said.

Turkey's coaching staff emphasise that Hakan has played all five World Cup matches so far despite an abdominal strain that demands constant treatment.

Midfielder Hasan Sas, one of Turkey's best players in the tournament and a constant worker in attack behind Hakan Sukur, might have been angered by the way the striker wasted the crosses Hasan put in against Senegal.

But Hasan was more angry with domestic press calls for Hakan to make way for Ilhan.

"As Turkish footballers we can't understand why the country's top player is being criticised like this. The people who do should look to themselves. If a footballer misses a goal and they attack him like that they need to question themselves," Hasan said.


Turkish coach Senol Gunes joins a line of Turkish coaches who have kept faith with Hakan Sukur, the tall, lean and talismanic figure who has led Turkey out on a series of victories in his 78 internationals, scoring 35 goals.

Hakan won his first Turkish cap in 1992 and since then there have been few matches in which the Turks did not come out with the often unshaven striker up front.

The last time Hakan was going through a goal drought, Gunes told the player to relax.

"I don't want goals from him," Gunes told reporters in the early days of Turkey's World Cup qualification campaign as concern mounted that a prolonged spell on the bench at Inter Milan had taken the edge off the game of Turkey's best player.

"That's what I'll tell him. I'll say that I just want him to play like Hakan. He shouldn't limit himself, then the real Hakan, and the goals, will come."

Gunes is still waiting.

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