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  Euro Stars    Hakan Yakin


Irreplaceable Yakin a key ingredient in Swiss mix
Hakan Yakin
If any Swiss player can shine on the big stage at the Euro 2004 finals, it will be attacking midfielder Hakan Yakin.

The Turkish-born playmaker, deadly from free kicks and a dangerous runner with the ball at his feet, has made the position behind the front two in coach Koebi Kuhn's preferred 4-3-1-2 system his own.

"We cannot replace him one for one," said Kuhn. "He adds ingredients that are not there with other players."

Evidence of his importance to the team came when the Swiss travelled to Russia without him and were soundly beaten 4-1 -- their only defeat in the qualifiers as they topped Group 10.

His three goals in seven appearances proved crucial for the Swiss and, together with his impressive form for FC Basel in their 2002-03 Champions League campaign, underlined his status.

A long list of clubs were linked with him at the end of that season, with Spain or Germany his likely destination, but a chronic groin injury dashed those hopes.

He eventually signed for Paris St Germain but that deal was cancelled in August after he decided to undergo surgery on his injury without the French club's approval.

Yakin, whose older brother Murat also plays for Switzerland, recovered and then returned to Basel where he played a leading role in the club's unbeaten start to the Swiss league season.

During the winter break a proposed move to Turkish club Fenerbahce fell through before Basel agreed to sell him, and fellow Swiss international Marco Streller, to Stuttgart.

Yakin is now setting his sights on Portugal where Switzerland are in a tough group with favourites France, England and Croatia next month.

"We want to play well and it is good that we are participating in the finals," said the 27-year-old Yakin.

"I want to do very well in Portugal.

"But we have to face three very good opponents in the group stage. Croatia, England and France are all very good teams. But if we want to succeed we have to show what we can do."

Yakin, who began his career at St Gallen and then joined Grasshoppers before moving to Basel, made his international debut in February 2000, scoring in the 4-1 defeat of Oman.

Since then he has racked up 13 goals in 30 appearances and he represents Switzerland's best hope of springing a surprise in their first major finals since Euro 96.
- Timothy Collings




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