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How 19-year-old Arda Güler, dubbed 'the Turkish Messi,' lit up the European Championship

Arda Güler celebrates Turkey's victory against Georgia at Euro 2024. (Hesham Elsherif/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource) Arda Güler celebrates Turkey's victory against Georgia at Euro 2024. (Hesham Elsherif/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)
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When Arda Güler scored a stunning goal in Turkey’s 3-1 win against Georgia this week – rifling the ball into the top corner from distance – it enhanced his status as one of the best young soccer players in the world.

Güler is only 19, but already his talents have earned him the nickname of “the Turkish Messi” after the Argentinian great: a nod to his deft ball control, driving runs and, as the Georgian team discovered on Tuesday, devastating left foot.

With the thunderbolt goal, Güler became the first teenager to score at a European Championship since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2004, guiding Turkey to its first ever opening-game victory at the tournament across the nation’s six appearances.

Fittingly, the midfielder is set to face Ronaldo in Turkey’s second game of Euro 2024 as the current and former Real Madrid players both look for a second win and a spot in the knockout stages.

“I don’t care about personal achievements,” Güler said after his performance against Georgia. “I’m all about the team, and I’m delighted to play my part.”

After joining Real Madrid from Fenerbahçe for a reported fee of US$22 million last year, Güler had an injury-hit first season at the club, only making his debut in January.

Real went on to win La Liga and the Champions League, though Güler didn’t feature in the successful European campaign and was an unused substitute in the final. He did, however score six goals in 379 minutes – an astounding average of a goal every 63.17 minutes – over the course of the 10 domestic games he played in the final months of the season.

“He has personality and character, and that’s good,” Los Blancos coach Carlo Ancelotti said after the teenage star’s debut, per Reuters. “He has good quality with his left foot, but character is an important aspect to do well at Real Madrid.”

At Euro 2024, Güler is part of a phenomenally talented crop of young players, including England midfielder and club teammate Jude Bellingham, Spain’s record-breaking winger Lamine Yamal, and German duo Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, who is the youngest man to score for his country at the Euros.

Güler’s goal, meanwhile, made him the youngest player to score on his Euro debut at the age of 19 years and 114 days, taking the accolade from Ronaldo.

Saturday’s game in Dortmund between Portugal and Turkey promises to be an intriguing contest, with Güler and Ronaldo – both of whom are attacking threats for their teams – at opposite ends of their careers.

Ronaldo, appearing in his record sixth European Championship, hit the post with a header and had a goal ruled out for offside as Portugal salvaged a late 2-1 victory against Czech Republic on Tuesday.

It was, though, a relatively quiet night for the 39-year-old, who was unable to add to his record haul of 14 European Championship goals.

Euro 2016 champion Portugal is the favorite to top this group, but Turkey looks set for a more promising tournament off the back of a lackluster campaign three years ago, now hoping to reach the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time since 2008.

Güler looks likely to be at the heart of that charge. A deep run in Germany would be quite the story for a player who, not all that long ago, was working as a ball boy for the national team.

“Of course, I know his quality,” Portugal forward Diogo Jota told reporters on Friday when asked about Güler’s performance against Georgia. “He is a great quality player like he showed us with an amazing goal.”

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