Trabzonspor’s unbeaten European run to be tested by Juventus
Trabzonspor hopes to leave its domestic problems behind when it faces Juventus in the last 32 of the Europa League tonight.
The Black Sea Storm has enjoyed one of its best seasons in Europe this year, but tonight, its unbeaten run will be subjected to a severe test by the Old Lady in Turin.
After surviving three qualifying rounds, Trabzonspor won its group ahead of another Italian team, Lazio, but it is far more troubled than it was two months ago.
Last week, the Turkish club parted ways with Coach Mustafa Akçay, handing the caretaker duties to Hami Mandıralı. One of the legendary forwards of the club, Mandıralı is making his first coaching stint at a senior level. The 45-year-old, who scored 219 goals, making him the third top scorer in Turkish league history behind Hakan Şükür and Tanju Çolak, has the hard task of leading his team against a solid Juve side, boasting several superstars, such as Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal, Gianluigi Buffon and Paul Pogba.
“I have played tough games like this as a player, and now I am on the other side,” Mandıralı told reporters Feb. 18. “We are not going to Italy to surrender.”
Juventus does not have fond memories of Turkey, with the Italian titleholder bowing out of the Champions League in a dramatic game in Istanbul in December 2013.
Galatasaray beat Juventus 1-0 on Dec. 11, thanks to a late Wesley Sneijder goal, knocking the Italian champions out of the elite European club tournament.
“We’re still disappointed to have gone out of the Champions League ... but after two years, in which Juve have grown immensely, we now have the aim of winning something in Europe,” said Juventus coach Antonio Conte, who has set his side the objective of winning both Serie A and the Europa League.
Elsewhere in the Europa League, former Tottenham manager Juande Ramos will be reunited with the English Premier League side as the Spurs travel to Ukraine for their first-leg tie against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Ramos guided Tottenham to the League Cup title in 2008, the last time the London club won any silverware, but was unceremoniously sacked the following season after less than a year on the job.
The Spaniard, a two-time UEFA Cup winner during his reign at Sevilla, acknowledges he faces an uphill climb if he is to repeat such success with Dnipro.
“Spurs are superior. They’re clear favorites and there’s a very good chance of us getting knocked out,” Ramos told British daily The Guardian.
“One Spurs player may be our annual budget. You can prepare players and the Spurs could still score four. Why? Because they’re better. I can say: ‘Look out, [Aaron] Lennon’s quick on the outside.’ They know, but voom-voom and he’s gone. What are you going to do, chuck a rope round him?” lamented Ramos.
Swansea City resumes its European adventure with the visit of Serie A heavyweights Napoli to south Wales.
The Swans, who sacked manager Michael Laudrup earlier this month, were knocked out of the FA Cup at Everton over the weekend, but a glamorous fixture against one of Italy’s leading clubs should make for a special evening for a club that almost tumbled out of the Football League just over a decade ago.
Napoli boss Rafael Benitez is well acquainted with English opposition, having also spent seven years at Liverpool and knows the Italians cannot afford to underestimate Swansea.
“It will be extremely difficult, as Swansea play good football and won’t let us keep possession for long,” he said.
Two-time former champion Porto is at home to 1980 winner Eintracht Frankfurt, while 2009 victor Shakhtar Donetsk goes to Viktoria Plzen with past champions Ajax, Sevilla and Valencia also in action.
Last year’s losing finalist, Benfica, travels to Greek outfit PAOK.