Galatasaray happy, Fener puzzled
AA PhotoGalatasaray has reasons to be hopeful while a handful of tricky tests await Fenerbahçe as the two Turkish teams learned the identity of the sides they will face in European competition this season.
Turkish titleholder Galatasaray was pitted against a group of Manchester United, Braga and Cluj in the Champions League, while runner-up Fenerbahçe will meet Marseille, Borussia Mönchengladbach and AEL Limassol in the second-tier Europa League.
“Our fans missed European football, and so did we,” Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim told the club’s official television channel, GS TV. “I hope it will be a long journey this season.”
The coach refused to call the group a comfortable one. “Football is a serious job. You should look at things without overrating or underestimating anyone,” he said. “No matter which team comes our way, we will work the best way we can and try to get out of the group.”
Manchester United is the comfortable favorite for the group but manager Sir Alex Ferguson did not need reminding that it was from a similarly straightforward group – containing Benfica, FC Basel and Cluj’s domestic rivals Otelul Galati – that the three-time champion failed to progress last season.
“We have the experience of playing against Galatasaray in the past and we will always remember the ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners,” Ferguson told manutd.com. “Obviously, we’ve never played Cluj before but, after the experience of last year, we don’t want to make any stupid errors this time. We will play our strongest team to make sure we get through.”
Fenerbahçe, who was relegated to play in the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League playoff round on Aug. 29, was handed a tricky group.
Marseille could be seen as an easier opponent than Liverpool, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid or Tottenham Hostpur, the other top-seeded teams that Fenerbahçe could have faced, but the Yellow Canaries’ other rivals are likely to pose a strong challenge as well.
Borussia Mönchengladbach of Germany was arguably the strongest team that Fenerbahçe could have faced from the third pot of teams.
However, the weakest link of the group on paper might cause the biggest headache for Fenerbahçe. AEL Limassol from Greek Cyprus might be a difficult place to play for the Turkish team.
But Fenerbahçe vice president Abdullah Kiğılı played down fears.
“I think we’re in the best group we can be,” Kiğılı told NTV Spor. “Marseille and Borussia Mönchengladbach were once one of the best teams of their domestic leagues. But today they are no better than us. And we should get six points out of two games from Limassol.”
Turkish sports teams’ trips away to Greek Cyprus have not been easy experiences.
Last year, Galatasaray women’s volleyball team was subjected to debris thrown from the stands during a game with Apollon Limassol, and there were similar attacks in Karşıyaka’s match against APOEL.
NTV Turkish Cyprus reporter Selim Sayarı said the game could produce violence.
“It will be dangerous, obviously, thinking about the events that happened in previous games [between Turkish and Greek Cypriot teams],” Sayarı said. “Fenerbahçe is a big team and there will be Turkish Cypriot fans trying to enter the game as well, so it will be a miracle if there are no violent scenes.”
AEL Limassol is the only Greek Cypriot team to make the group stage of a European competition this year. APOEL Nicosia, who upset the formbook last year by sensationally qualifying for the Champions League quarterfinals, were knocked out of the Europa League qualifiers by surprising Azerbaijani side Neftchi Baku.