The Yellow Canaries' 'afroed tandem,' Christian Baroni and Salih Uçan, embrace after the latter's first goal as a Fenerbahçe player. AP photo
Deprived of the support of its home fans at the Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium, Fenerbahçe
sweated to secure qualification to the quarterfinals of the Europa League March.14, desperately holding off Czech
opponents Victoria Plzen to draw 1-1 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate.
Fenerbahçe reached the quarterfinals stage in the Champions League during the 2007/08 season, but has never got so far in the Europa League. This year's run therefore marks Fenerbahçe’s biggest achievement ever in the second-tier European competition.
Salih Uçan opened the scoring for Fenerbahçe
just before the half-time whistle, but an equalizer from Vladimir Darida put the Czechs back in the game in the 60th minute.
In the end the 1-0 victory earned in Plzen during the first-leg match proved crucial and the Yellow Canaries advanced to the next stage.
Although Plzen had to win the match to qualify, Fenerbahçe
seemed the more determined side in the first half. Head coach Aykut Kocaman’s men took control of the ball with an organized display and caused the first danger of the match when Brazilian midfielder Christian Baroni narrowly missed from long range.
Plzen had its first goal opportunity in the 23rd minute when Pavel Horvath found Darida inside Fenerbahçe’s area, but the Czech
striker’s effort went just wide of Volkan Demirel’s goal.
Fenerbahçe increased pressure and approached Plzen’s area dangerously on several occasions. Finally, it was Fenerbahçe’s promising young talent Salih Uçan who found the goal after a terrible mistake in the Czech
defense, with a well-taken finish from inside Plzen’s area. It was Uçan’s first goal for Fenerbahçe’s first team.
In the 56th minute former Liverpool star Dirk Kuyt almost doubled the lead, but Matus Kozacik managed to make two desperate saves.
Just four minutes later came the equalizer against the course of the game when Darida found the net. Having nothing to lose, the Czechs then launched assault after assault on the Fenerbahçe
goal. In the 70th minute, David Limberski’s missile was denied by the post, and Plzen missed another clear opportunity in the 77th minute scramble inside Fenerbahçe’s area.
In the last 10 minutes, both teams had chances to seal their qualification. Plzen created the perfect opportunity with another scramble following a corner in the first minute of injury time, however Fenerbahçe
managed to clear the ball from the line. Kuyt then had another one-on-one with the keeper to close out the game, but his shot was easily blocked by Kozacic.
In the end, Fenerbahçe
was able to hold out and qualify for the quarterfinals.