Turkey's qualification for the Euro-2000 finals brought some welcome cheer after the devastating earthquake that shook the northwest of the country in 1999, claiming the lives of around 20,000 people.
They clinched a place in finals by the narrowest margin of an away goal in a tense, controversial play-off with the Republic of Ireland.
After a 1-1 draw in Dublin, the Turks snuffed out the Irish in a 0-0 draw in Istanbul, sparking a pitch invasion and a night of wild celebrations across the country.
"The players have given the Turkish people a big morale boost tonight after the recent suffering," coach Mustafa Denizli said after the match. "For once we have something to smile about."
Expectations are running high in the predominantly Muslim, football-mad country as the team prepares to make up for their poor showing at Euro-96 in England when they failed to take a point or score a goal in their three matches against Croatia, Portugal and Denmark.
Most of the players are now in their late 20's and reaching the peak of their footballing capabilities.
The team also boasts a handful of truly world-class players. Sukur, who averages over a goal every two games in his eight-year international career, is a formidable presence up front.
Midfielder Sergin Yalcin is the creative dynamo of the team while Alpay Ozalan and Ogun Temizkanoglu are commanding figures at the back.
Despite the Euro-96 flop, Turkey have steadily emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the 1990's after years in the international wilderness.
Success in the qualifiers has already brought its own financial reward for the players who earned around $200,000 in bonuses, including a Range Rover each - (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)