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Gunes unconcerned by Tugay retirement speculation

© Reuters 2002

ISTANBUL, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Turkey coach Senol Gunes was looking confidently forward to the rest of his team's European championship qualifying campaign, despite speculation that one of his leading players was set to retire.

The day after Turkey crushed Liechtenstein 5-0 to stay top of Group Seven, media reports said midfielder Tugay Kerimoglu was planning to quit internationals after the potentially decisive qualifying game against England next April.

But Gunes, who led his side to the FIFA World Cup" semi-finals four months ago, is unconcerned about coping without the 32-year-old playmaker, who equalled Hakan Sukur's record of 80 international caps on Wednesday.

"When their time comes there may well be players who want to give up international football," he said. "We'll look at it. The important thing for us is that people whose time has come leave and that players who still have the strength continue to play.

"(Tugay) may well want to (leave) but he's playing very well. He played very well."

Gunes said his players were now focused on preparing for the game against second-placed England, who were held to a 2-2 home draw by Macedonia on Wednesday, on April 2. England are five points behind Turkey in the group, which also includes Slovakia, with a game in hand.

Only the top team qualifies automatically for the 2004 tournament in Portugal, with second-placed sides entering a playoff.

Turkey are trying to arrange a friendly against Italy in November and other matches in February in the run-up to the England match.

"We are just at the start of the European Championship," Gunes said. "The nine points we have are pleasing but it's not the end. We now are preparing for the England match. We need to prepare the players who will be in our squad, secure new players, and we want to have a wide squad."

Gunes will be pleased that his two leading candidates to replace Hakan Sukur as leading striker performed well against Liechtenstein.

Ilhan Mansiz of Besiktas returned from a long injury with a 23rd minute goal and Fenerbahce's Serhat Akin scored twice after replacing Ilhan in the 79th minute.

Serhat is making a strong case for more first-team action. He was not a part of the Turkish squad that came third at the FIFA World Cup" but trained alongside the team in South Korea and Japan.

Gunes said he was also pleased with Ilhan's performance, despite some mistakes and problems with his first touch.

"The Ilhan we know is a better Ilhan but he played with good intentions and made a valuable contribution to our game," Gunes added. "But our Ilhan is better than that. He needs some more time."

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