Turkey to face “a great test” against Russia
To say that a tough tie awaits Turkey in the Women’s IHF World Championship 2021 play-offs would be an understatement.
The team from head coach Birol Ünsal will face no lesser opponents than Russia for a place at the finals tournament in Spain in December.
Turkey play the first leg at home on Friday (live at EHFTV at 16:30 CEST) before the return game in Moscow on Tuesday.
“Russia are an important handball country and they are ahead of us in every way,” Ünsal said.
However, the coach sees the play-offs as an opportunity.
“We had a good preparation period. Against powerful opponents like Russia, we will see the level of Turkish women's handball,” he said.
“These two matches will be a great test for the future. I trust my players, especially the young ones.”
And trusting his young players is certainly what Ünsal has to do.
As if the duels with Russia were not challenging enough, Turkey have been hit by a series of injuries, ruling many regular players out for the play-offs.
From his initial 18-player squad, Ünsal has lost Asli Iskit, Beyza Irem Türkoglu and Kübra Sarikaya due to injuries.
Especially the absence of 27-year-old left back Iskit, who plays for Thüringer HC, means a blow to the team. Right wing Türkoglu and left wing Sarikaya, both playing for Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK, will also be hard to replace.
Also, experienced centre back Fatma Atalar, who was invited back to the team after four years, got injured in a latest shock to the team, which were already without key players like Yasemin Sahin and Sevilay Imamoglu.
It leaves the team with an average age of just 24, with left wing Elif Sila Aydin from Kastamonu and Yenimahalle Belediye SK's line player Nurceren Akgün Göktepe as the most prominent members of the squad.
“Unfortunately, one third of the players couldn't join the national team squad due to injury,” said team captain Göktepe, adding Turkey will still give it all: “Russia are a very strong team, they are Olympic champions. We will do our best, fight in the best way possible.”
Giving up is also no option for Aydin.
“We have been paired with a strong team like Russia in the World Championship play-offs,” she said. “We know it will be a difficult tie and we will fight with all our strength.”
And even if they don’t cause a major upset, Aydin said, Turkey will still enjoy the two games.