Three Turkish teams seek Europa League progress
AA photoThree Turkish teams in the UEFA Europa League will take on hard tests against regional rivals from three countries with whom Turkey has faced political disputes in recent years when the competition’s Round of 32 begins on Feb. 16.
Fenerbahçe may be disappointed by indifferent form in the domestic league, but it is on a three-match European winning streak and has lost only once in eight UEFA Europa League outings this term – a 4-1 reverse away to Manchester United in the group stage. The Istanbul team will host Russian side Krasnodar, which failed to make it beyond the round of 32 in 2015/16.
Turkey and Russia are still debating the details of the killing of three Turkish soldiers when a Russian war plane that took off from the Hmeimim air base in Syria hit their building southwest of the Syrian town of al-Bab on Feb. 9. A Russian jet was downed by Turkey on Nov. 24, 2015, for violating the Turkish border, triggering a major dispute between the two countries until a resolution was reached last summer.
Fener coach Dick Advocaat is well-versed in Russian football, having guided Zenit St. Petersburg to glory in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup. Advocaat was made an honorary citizen of Saint Petersburg after that 2008 UEFA Cup success – the first foreigner to receive the honor since 1866, according to uefa.com. The Dutch gaffer, who is in his first campaign with Fenerbahçe, has also coached the Dutch and Russian national teams and won domestic leagues with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and Zenit in Russia.
Krasnodar’s Vladimir Bystrov, Dmitri Torbinski, Marat Izmailov and Pavel Mamaev played under Advocaat during his time as Russia coach. Fener center-back Martin Škrtel also has a long Russian league experience, having played alongside Bystrov at Zenit in 2005.
Fener’s new signing, Aatif Chahechouhe, and striker Fernandão are the newcomers to the UEFA squad, while Miroslav Stoch and Salih Uçan were left out. Another surprising omission was Dutch star Robin van Persie, Hürriyet reported on its website.
Beşiktaş goes to Israel
The champions of Israel and Turkey are set for a first meeting, with Beşiktaş flying south to face a Hapoel Beer-Sheva side in the wake of the countries’ recent reconciliation.
However, earlier this month, the extension of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory and air strikes on Gaza overshadowed the first ministerial-level visit from Turkey to Israel since relations deteriorated in May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandoes raided a Gaza-bound flotilla, killing a total of 10 Turkish citizens onboard.
Beşiktaş will look to erase the memory of a 6-0 loss at Dynamo Kyiv in their final European match of 2016. Brazilian attacking midfielder Talisca’s return from a broken metatarsal is a big boost for Beşiktaş, which has players suspended. Gökhan Gönül will replace Andreas Beck at right-back, while Cenk Tosun will be the lone striker in the absence of the banned Vincent Aboubakar and the injured Ömer Şişmanoğlu. Cenk has done well on the domestic front with 12 goals, but Aboubakar has scored three in the UEFA Champions League and has always been the first choice in that competition.
Left-back Adriano’s absence is another concern for coach Şenol Güneş. New signing Matej Mitrović may partner Marcelo in the center back.
Osmanlı faces Olympiacos in Aegean matchup
Turkey’s surprise package in the UEFA Europa League, Osmanlıspor, is hoping for a change of fortune in 2017 when it visits Greece’s Olympiacos for a match that also comes amid tensions between Turkey and Greece.
Ankara is at odds with Athens over an extradition demand for eight Turkish soldiers, who escaped to the Aegean neighbor after the bloody coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
Tensions were also strained recently on the rights to two small uninhabited Aegean islets, Kardak (Imia in Greek), situated between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the southwestern mainland coast of Turkey.
Following just a single draw and three defeats in the league so far this calendar year, Osmanlıspor has been hurt by the absence of Senegal’s Badou Ndiaye, who was on national duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, as well as Aminu Umar’s injury, but coach Mustafa Akçay remains optimistic.
“We’ve not got the points we deserved over the last six weeks, but we’ll keep working. A German proverb says: ‘Luck is on the side of those who prepare.’ Olympiacos is a compact team, but we can give them a hard time. We definitely need to score away with our pacey players,” he said.
A box-to-box player, Ndiaye’s exceptional stamina constitutes the backbone of Osmanlıspor’s midfield.