Turkey’s surprise direct qualification for the Euro 2016 football championships was Wednesday hailed as a “miracle” but the celebrations were marred by jeering during a minute of silence for victims of the Ankara attack.
Turkey defeated Iceland 1-0 at home in the central city of Konya in the final round of the qualification campaign, thanks to a sensational free kick from Selcuk Inan in the penultimate minute.
After a dire start to their campaign, the win, and a succession of favourable results elsewhere on Tuesday night, gave Turkey direct qualification to the Euro finals in 2016 as the best third-placed side in the groups.
Few commentators in Turkey had dared to predict such an outcome for the team.
“They said it needed a miracle. That miracle was realised yesterday,” headlined the Hurriyet daily.
“The Euro 2016 qualifying, which began like a nightmare, ended in a fairy tale,” said the Fanatik sports daily.
The victory was hailed as a much-needed boost for the country which has been in mourning for the 97 victims of double suicide attacks on a left-wing peace rally in Ankara on Saturday.
“In these sad days, I congratulate the national team for bringing us together in happiness,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote on his official Twitter account.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also thanked the team on Twitter for making Turkey feel “pride and national solidarity.”
– ‘Don’t we have a heart?’ –
But in a sign of the deep polarisation within Turkey even after the attack, several Turkish fans could be heard whistling and jeering during the pre-match minute of silence for the victims.
The fans also shouted “God is great!” footage posted on the Internet showed.
Konya, the home region of Davutoglu, is a known bastion of religious conservatives in Turkey strongly opposed to the leftist politics of those that gathered for the Ankara rally.
The top trending Twitter hashtag in Turkey Wednesday was #UtanKonya — “Shame on you Konya.”
“Let Konya become part of Saudi Arabia,” commented one user.
The controversy marred efforts to promote the victory as a celebration of national unity after the attack, the deadliest in modern Turkey’s history.
“We don’t have a clue how a minute of silence is observed or how homage is paid,” wrote respected Turkish former national team manager Mustafa Denizli in Hurriyet.
“Don’t we have a heart that beats for them and the lips to hush? What does it take to respect a person who passed away? Are we so unfamiliar with these feelings?” he added.
But coach Fatih Terim said he hoped the win would bring happiness to Turkey after the trauma of the last days.
“We are so pleased to have brought some happiness to our people,” the 62-year-old Turkish football legend said after the game.
But he added: “We can’t enjoy it, it’s a bittersweet joy.
“I would wish that not a single child had died and and we hadn’t qualified for the European Championship.”
Newspaper front pictures were plastered with pictures of Turkey’s talismanic midfielder Arda Turan, who this year signed for Barcelona and was in tears after the victory.
Both Turan, who rose to stardom from his upbringing in a working class district of Istanbul, and Terim are enthusiastic supporters of Erdogan.
“My condolences to the Turkish people, we share their pain,” Turan said after the match. “I am very happy for our country if we were able to offer some respite to our people.”