As next summer’s World Cup nears ever closer, stories of heroes from years gone by will be aplenty. For Turkey, there is only one man to choose and that is Hasan Sas.
No tournament can define a career like a World Cup can and the summer of 2002 that would come to define his. In a team full of stars such as Sukur, Basturk and Emre, he was the name on everyone’s lips.
There is more to his story than that glorious summer in South Korea and Japan, though.
Born in Karatas, Adana, Sas started his career aged 17 with Adana Demirispor. He would only make four appearances for his hometown club before joining Ankaragucu in 1995.
A three-year spell there, in which he managed 80 appearances and nine goals, saw Galatasaray move quickly to snap him up in 1998.
To say things got off to a bad start at the Turkish giants would be an understatement. In fact, describing it as a nightmare may not even go far enough.
Shortly after signing, Sas tested positive for Phenylpropanolamine, a stimulant and decongestant commonly found in cold medicine. No hint of wrongdoing was suggested but the authorities were ruthless, handing him a six-month ban without hesitation.
Frustrated but undeterred, Sas would have to wait until the following season to get his career at Galatasaray properly going.
The last time Arsenal played in the Europa League it was called the UEFA Cup and they lost the final on penalties to Galatasaray.
— Ogon Asueya (@ogon_asueya) August 25, 2017
The 1999/2000 season found the Turkish side playing in the UEFA Cup, entering at the third round qualifying stage. A 1-1 draw with Bologna in the first leg meant qualification to the group stages was far from certain.
Sas would be the man that would help them change that. Five minutes into the second leg he opened the scoring and put his side ahead on aggregate. It was a lead they would surrender but a 2-1 win was secured, alongside qualification.
That win sparked a superb run to the final, which Galatasaray would win, famously defeating Arsenal to do so. Sas would only play a bit part role in that run, playing 90 minutes just once.
No bother for him, though. His goal against Bologna meant his name was in the history books, nobody could deny he had played a role in Galatasaray becoming the first Turkish team to win a European trophy.
If the UEFA Cup had failed to help Sas to stardom, it’s bigger brother, the Champions League, would fix that the following season.
That year, Galatasaray made it all the way to the quarterfinals, where they met giants Real Madrid. Sadly for them, a 6-2 aggregate loss followed but not before they had written their name into the history books.
The first leg of that quarter final had seen them travel away to Madrid. Two goals down, many expected the Spaniards to run away with the game but that did not prove to be the case, with Galatasaray coming back to win 3-2, Sas bagging the second goal.
Sas would manage two goals and four assists in that campaign before Galatasaray’s exit. It was not a significant tally by any means, but who he got them against certainly was.
His goals came against AC Milan and Madrid, his assists, Rangers, Sturm Graz and Madrid again. A goal and assist against the Spanish giants in a 3-2 first leg win in Turkey meant it was his name in headlines worldwide. His rise had truly begun.
Galatasaray beat Real Madrid 3-2 in Champions League 2001 with a great comeback from 0-2. Ümit Davala, Hasan Şaş and Jardel hunt Casillas. pic.twitter.com/gJ3nXhd1jP
— Football Turks (@FootballTurks) April 14, 2017
It was a rise that would cement his place in the Turkish national squad and result in his stock hitting its pinnacle the following summer. Heading into a World Cup in South Korea and Japan, the Turkish forward was in good form.
He had won the title with Galatasaray, scoring two goals and registering seven assists in 27 games. A warm up game against a Hong Kong XI before the tournament had seen him score and win a penalty in a strong performance.
His tail was up and his performances in the Champions League the previous year had established his credentials as one of his country’s top forwards, even with Hakan Sukur still in the picture.
Of the two, only one would flourish that summer and it would be Sas. Turkey were in Group C alongside Brazil, the eventual winners, Costa Rice and China PR.
The pressure was on for them to qualify for the knockout stages, a feat they would achieve, and then some. Their hero? Hasan Sas.
In the first game against Brazil, his goal right before half time handed his side a shock lead. They would eventually lose 2-1 but Sas had put his name in the headlines once again.
A draw with Costa Rica in their next game meant that they had to beat China to go through, Sas would again be the hero. In a 3-0 win, he would score one and provide the assists for the other two.
Brazil would bring Turkey’s run to an end in the semi finals but for Sas, the disappointment was only minimal.
On the first Turkish team to reach the knockout stages, he had been the star man. His place in the all-star team alongside footballing legends such as Khan, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo confirmed as much.
Speaking of 2002's World Cup, its shocking how Hasan Sas didnt end up in the premier league or something. Yes, lets discuss retired players!
— العنود المهيري (@Mrs_Shakespare) October 7, 2012
The big clubs had certainly taken notice, with links to AC Milan and Arsenal following but ultimately coming to nothing. Indeed, Sas would never move outside of Turkey.
Instead, he would spend the rest of his career at Galatasaray, winning two more titles, a Turkish Cup and a Turkish Super Cup. In total, he retired with 13 honours to his name, all won in the colours of his third club.
Nobody remembers them, though, not in the slightest. For Sas, a wonderful World Cup campaign highlighted by his goal against Brazil will always be the defining moment of his career.