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TURKEY > Rivals set for tense playoff game

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Games between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe are always thrilling match-ups, but this weekend’s Super Final meeting comes with even more tension because it may decide the fate of a season marred by match-fixing controversy

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Although the rivalry between the two teams never lacks heat, this week’s Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe derby comes with even more tension. The two Istanbul teams will renew their centennial rivalry in a Spor Toto Super League championship playoff meeting on April 21, a potential title-deciding game.

Galatasaray leads the standings, five points ahead of Fenerbahçe, and will be virtually untouchable if it wins on its home pitch on Saturday. For Fenerbahçe, it is a do-or-die battle: It will be extremely tough to catch Galatasaray in the remaining four games if Fenerbahçe can’t beat its archrival in this game.

However, the tension surrounding the game is not simply limited to the title race between the two teams, which are ahead of the remaining two, Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş, who will meet in the other playoff game on Saturday.

The main reason for the tension is the ongoing match-fixing case, which has overshadowed the entire season. Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, arguably the most powerful man in Turkish football, and four other Fenerbahçe members, were among the 93 football club officials, players and coaches listed as suspects in the case, which started after the Istanbul police department found that more than a dozen games were allegedly manipulated last season. Fenerbahçe, last season’s champion, was not the only team implicated; top clubs Trabzonspor and Beşiktaş were also involved, but the allegations in the indictment center on Fenerbahçe.

Supporters of the club have championed the idea that Fenerbahçe is being victimized as part of a plot to take over the coveted club’s administration. During the course of the season, players, coach Aykut Kocaman, and fans have demonstrated their reaction to the case, which they like to call the “July 3 process,” referring to the date when the investigation became public. Fenerbahçe wants to win the title again to prove that their success last year was not due to match-fixing.

Strong lead

On the other hand, Galatasaray will try hard not to blow its league lead, which was already cut in half going into the playoffs. According to the playoff rules, teams entered the post-season with their points halved, resulting in Galatasaray having its nine-point lead cut to five. Although it was the only top team untouched by the match-fixing allegations, Galatasaray still entered the debate, with Chairman Ünal Aysal and Vice Chairman Adnan Öztürk repeatedly urging the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to make a decision in the case.

So on Saturday, we will have two sides facing each other, trying to take a huge leap toward the league title.

Galatasaray feels they have been victimized by playoff rules that put their title chances at risk, as Aysal said: it “was like a blow to our heads.” Fenerbahçe believes it was the victim of a plot all along, which will make this year’s title and this weekend’s game special. The mounting tension of the playoffs could already be seen spilling over last week, when several Beşiktaş fans invaded the pitch during their game with Galatasaray, and a feud between Emre Belözoğlu and Didier Zokora overshadowed the Fenerbahçe-Trabzonspor game.

The Professional Football Disciplinary Committee (PFDK) handed Fenerbahçe’s Belözoğlu a two-match ban for insulting Zokora, but rejected the Ivorian player’s claims that he was racially abused. A former Galatasaray player, Belözoğlu is not a welcome figure at the Türk Telekom Arena, but the game is unlikely to miss him in terms of tension. The game kicks off at 7 p.m.

April/21/2012

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