Turkey's Mert Muldur, left, celebrates after scoring his side's opening...

Turkey's Mert Muldur, left, celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during a Group F match between Turkey and Georgia at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Credit: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

LEIPZIG, Germany — Turkey defender Mert Muldur says there was never any question of him playing for Austria.

The teams are set to meet in the European Championship last 16 on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Muldur was born in Vienna to Turkish parents and made his way through the youth ranks of Rapid Vienna. He made his league debut with the club in 2018.

“I grew up in Austria. I went to school in Austria. I learned to play football there and of course there’s a specific connection to Austria,” Muldur said on Monday. “But in Turkey I went through the under-17, under-19 national teams and then the senior national team. And, basically, you don’t have another chance to say yes. So for me, it wasn’t an option to go to Austria.”

Austria players Niklas Hedl and Leopold Querfeld also came through Rapid’s youth setup, meaning a reunion of sorts is in store for the three players on Tuesday.

Muldur, who plays for Turkish club Fenerbahce, is getting Austrian support, too.

“A lot of friends from Vienna and Austria basically called me, and many of them will be at the stadium tomorrow,” he said. “I look forward to the game and I hope it will be good, and hopefully we will be the winners.”

Muldur scored in Turkey’s opening 3-1 win over Georgia and played again in the 2-1 win over the Czech Republic. He missed a 3-0 loss to Portugal in between.

After 13 years with Rapid, he left the club in 2019 for Italian club Sassuolo, where he played four seasons before transferring to Fenerbahce last year. He helped the team finish second to rival Galatasaray in the Turkish league.

But Muldur, who has played 26 games for Turkey, said he always had the national team in mind.

“I stayed ready with Fenerbahce even when I was not on the pitch and playing actively,” Muldur said. “It was a dream of mine to make it to the national team for this tournament. So I kept myself in tip top shape and – be it in trainings, or in actual games – I always put 100% of my capabilities onto the pitch. And, of course, the coach made the choice of putting me in.”

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