Can droves of Turkey fans push their team in Euro 2024?

HAMBURG — It was well past 1 a.m. local time in Hamburg on Wednesday night, but there were still cars racing around the city centre, horns beeping, flags fluttering from their windows.

A few hours earlier, Turkey had sealed their passage into the knockout rounds of Euro 2024 with a 2-1 win over Czechia, and the scene around the Hamburg fan park — in the shadow of the giant World War II anti-aircraft bunker at Feldstrasse — could have been Istanbul or Ankara rather than Germany.

Before kick-off, the S-Bahn trains ferrying thousands of Turkey fans from the main station towards Volksparkstadion passed tower blocks of apartments with Turkish flags draped from the windows. Outside Stellingen station, a mile from the stadium, there were two men — one with a drum around his neck and another with a loud speaker — stood atop a double-decker bus whipping up the crowd below with songs and chants as flares filled the air with thick red smoke.

The scene was recreated in Dortmund ahead of Turkey’s first two group games against Georgia and Portugal, and it will be the same in Leipzig when they meet Austria in the last-16. Turkey bid to host Euro 2024 only to be beaten in the vote by Germany, but ferocious support all over the country has made this feel like a home tournament.

There are three million people of Turkish heritage living in Germany and nearly 1.5 million with Turkish citizenship, with more than 60,000 living in Hamburg alone. Most are able to trace their ancestry back to government programmes introduced in the 1960s which allowed German companies to recruit Turkish workers to ease a labour shortage caused by a post-war economic boom.

It has led to an adage among Turkish Germans that Turkish workers helped rebuild Germany after the war, but Germany has also played its part in shaping Turkey’s squad at these Euros. Five of their 26 players were born in Germany, including stars Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Kenan Yildiz.

Cenk Tosun, who scored the winner against Czechia to make sure of a place in the knockout rounds, was born in Wetzlar and started his career at Eintracht Frankfurt; Salih Özcan was born in Cologne and was part of the Germany squad which won the Under-21 Euros in 2021 alongside current Germany internationals Florian Wirtz and Nico Schlotterbeck.

The cultural mix on the pitch is mirrored in the stands.

Support among Turkish Germans has been so fierce that more than 2,500 fans turned up for an open training session at Turkey’s base just outside Hanover before the tournament had even kicked off. Tens of thousands are expected to descend on Leipzig for the game against Austria.

For the most part, the support has been welcomed by head coach Vincenzo Montella, saying on the eve of the first game against Georgia that he and the players had a “responsibility” to those following them.

But it’s also brought with it added expectation and increased criticism when things haven’t gone well, particularly after the 3-0 defeat to Portugal. Montella’s tactics have been questioned and there have been reports of splits in the camp between players who represent Turkey’s top clubs, and fierce domestic rivals, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas.

“Why do people want to cause an issue,” Montella said last week. “We are united. We won’t let that distract us. I really believe our fans, our genuine fans, which is 99.9% of the fan base, will be with us and they’ll support us from the first whistle to the last.

“I’d like to remind the critics that this is our country. If you love your country, support this country as much as you can.”

Montella, an ex-Italy striker who got the job with Turkey after an impressive spell in charge of club side Adana Demirspor, has often found himself battling opposing forces. He’s picked the second-youngest squad at the Euros with an average age of 25.8, but it’s not enough for the 50-year-old former Milan and Sevilla boss to be given a free pass.

There are ghosts from Euro 2020 to dispel, when Turkey turned up as dark-horse contenders only to finish bottom of their group with three defeats from three and just one goal to show for their campaign.

This is a new generation, with a mix of experience in 30-year-old Inter midfielder Çalhanoğlu and exciting youngsters like Real Madrid forward Arda Güler and Juventus winger Yildiz, both 19. Güler became the first Turkish player to win the Champions League when Real Madrid beat Borussia Dortmund at Wembley and everywhere Turkey have gone, fans have chanted his name.

There have been few moments at Euro 2024 that have created a bigger roar than Güler’s wonder strike against Georgia. Turkey have shown the capability to cause a shock in the past, finishing third at both the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2008, and it’s players like Güler that have given fans hope that anything could happen in the knockouts, particularly in what is perceived to be the weaker side of the draw.

There is, though, a worry that their campaign could fall flat at any moment.

Expectations went through the roof in November when they beat Germany 3-2 in Berlin — their first away win in Germany since 1951 — but it was followed by a run of five games without a win, including a 6-1 humiliation against round-of-16 opponents Austria in March. It doesn’t help that Montella will be without Çalhanoğlu at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday after he was ruled out through suspension, while defender Samet Akaydin will also be absent.

It won’t quell the optimism ahead of the meeting with Austria, but Montella knows that recriminations will be quick if the result does not go his way. Leipzig, just like Hamburg and Dortmund, will be a sea of red on Tuesday and if they reach a first Euros quarterfinal for 16 years, the celebrations will, not for the first time, stretch long into the night.