All eyes on Istanbul derby as Galatasaray, Fener seek lead
ÇETİN CEM YILMAZ
Galatasaray, trailing behind its archrival within a one-win-reach in the standings, will try to take over the top spot while Fenerbahçe will try to continue its lead. Hürriyet photoThe match-fixing investigation continues to be the main talking point after taking the Turkish football agenda by storm for many months. Plus, Trabzonspor is playing a match of historic importance. But still, these events will be overshadowed for a few hours this evening when it is Galatasaray versus Fenerbahçe.
The two Istanbul teams will renew Turkish football’s top rivalry tonight and once again the derby will be the top subject for the nation to discuss.
Tonight’s match-up has every reason to be an intriguing clash. Galatasaray, trailing behind its archrival within a one-win-reach in the standings, will try to take over the top spot. Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, will try to continue its lead in the league, giving its survival bid a boost.
Frankly, Fenerbahçe needs a victory more than its rival tonight. After making a great start to the season, signs of fatigue showed in the team remarkably depleted with players, departing after the match-fixing investigation. First, its year-long unbeaten streak came to an end at Sivasspor on Nov. 4, and then the team showed signs of losing its attitude to win. Fenerbahçe only won three of its last seven matches, which is a far cry from the team that famously won 17 of its last 18 games last season and went on to claim the title.
To deepen Fenerbahçe’s woes, pressure on the club mounted over the weekend when the indictment into the match-fixing investigation was finally released. Earlier this summer, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) declined to punish the clubs allegedly involved in match fixing since the case was filed confidential, which was bound to change after the release of the indictment. Oddly, Fenerbahçe is leading a competition with the possibility of being relegated at any moment.
Nobody can claim this works in Fenerbahçe’s favor, though. Coach Aykut Kocaman showed an example of true leadership to keep his side focused on the game. This was not easy at all, with five club officials, including Chairman Aziz Yıldırım, jailed pending trial, and the team losing the forwards Mamadou Niang, Emmanuel Emenike and Daniel Güiza in addition to resilient Uruguayan defender Diego Lugano.
With his team losing depth and the worry of a punishment looming, Kocaman was the glue holding his team together, and his is still the name millions of Fenerbahçe fans rely on.
Normally, given the circumstances, Fenerbahçe would be second favorite, playing an away game at Galatasaray. However, Kocaman spent enough time around this rivalry to know that the Yellow Canaries always have the upper hand when they seem the underdogs. The last two and a half decades have seen several examples when Fenerbahçe was close to hitting rock bottom, just to bounce back with a victory over Galatasaray.
On the other hand, Galatasaray will be cautious with the psychological edge. It is aware that the fan advantage can turn around, as seen on March 18 earlier this year, and it knows that Fenerbahçe traditionally relishes the underdog tag.
Coach Fatih Terim, known to be a master in preparing his players for big games, should probably guide his players to keep in control despite whatever happens throughout the game.
Terim, reappointed to the post after seven years, has rebuilt the squad on hand to help the team forget last year’s disastrous eighth place finish. Terim’s success tonight will definitely rely on whether his group of wayward players, including Milan Baros, Johan Elmander, Colin Kazım Richards, Felipe Melo and Emmanuel Eboue, will keep their cool and remain focused on the game no matter what. If they can stay in the game, Galatasaray has a shot of winning.
Otherwise, it will be just another addition to a long list of famous Fenerbahçe victories over its archrival.