Beşiktaş eyes recovery on Europa League stage
Simao (right) will play against his former side Atletico Madrid for the first time as a Beşiktaş player. Turkish attacker Arda Turan, meanwhile, is doubtful to play against Beşiktaş tonight. AP photoAfter falling far from the top in the domestic league, Beşiktaş will hold on to Europa League even harder as the team takes on a stern Atletico Madrid tonight.
Getting only one win its last seven games, Beşiktaş fell to fourth spot and 17 points behind leader Galatasaray in the Spor Toto Super League. Along with the Turkish Cup, the Europa League remains Beşiktaş’s top priority.
The Black Eagles visit a solid Madrid side in the round of 16 of the second-tier cup competition, and coach Carlos Carvalhal acknowledged the Spaniards were the better side.
“It will be a tough game, hands down,” the Portuguese said after the 2-1 defeat to Trabzonspor on March 4. “They are the favorites for this tie.”
However, Carvalhal refused to give up hope, saying the team is continuing on its path.
“I have no fears in anything in football,” he said. “In the league, we aim to qualify for the championship playoff. We are continuing in the Turkish Cup.
“And we have already qualified for the round of 16 to match the club’s second ever highest performance in the Europa League. There is no turning back from our targets.”
The team is likely to start with young forward Mustafa Pektemek as the Portuguese forward Hugo Almeida picked up an injury against Trabzonspor.
Central defender Egemen Korkmaz and left back İsmail Köybaşı, who have minor injuries, are expected to start the game.
Tonight’s game will mark the return of former Atletico Madrid hero Simao Sabrosa to Vicente Calderon. The Portuguese winger has spent three years at the Madrid club and had an emotional press conference while tearfully announcing he would be leaving for Beşiktaş in January 2011.
Another interesting match-up would be winger Arda Turan facing his Turkish national teammates, but the former Galatasaray man, along with Brazilian playmaker Diego, may miss the game due to injury.
Manchester rivals meet Latin teams
Apart from Beşiktaş, two title contenders will take Latin tests in the round of 16 as well.
Manchester United’s rare foray into European football’s second tier gives it a chance to renew another old acquaintance when it hosts Atletico Bilbao.
Having reached the round of 16 by winning its first encounter with Ajax since 1976, United is up against a Spanish side it has not played since 1957.
Back then, Bilbao beat United 5-3 in the quarterfinals of the old European Cup before the so-called “Busby Babes” advanced to a semifinal against defending champion – and eventual winner – Real Madrid with a 3-0 second-leg win.
With a record of one win from four matches contributing to its demotion from the Champions League to the Europa League, United’s home form in Europe is less impressive this season, but Bilbao’s players are still excited.
“It’s a dream for us to play at Manchester just like it’s a dream for our fans to see us play at Old Trafford,” defender Jon Aurtenetxe said. “The best result would be a victory. But we’re aware of how difficult that will be, so we’ll try to produce the best possible result.
“We’ll give it our all. Let’s see if we can give them a scare.”
Bilbao center back Fernando Amorebieta is suspended, but Spain forwards Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain are available, as are dangerous midfielders Markel Susaeta and Ander Herrera.
Llorente has 12 goals in 18 appearances since returning from injury in January, helping the Basque club get this far and to reach the Copa del Rey final.
Defender Chris Smalling should return to United’s lineup after recovering from a head injury sustained playing for England, while Anderson could make his first appearance since Jan. 8. Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia are unlikely to be fit, but Valencia could make next week’s second-leg match in Spain.
In another of tonight’s eight matches, United’s local rival, Manchester City, is at Sporting Lisbon.
City is two points clear at the top of the Premier League and warmed up with a routine 2-0 win over Bolton on Saturday. Sporting is coming off a surprise 1-0 defeat to struggling Vitoria Setubal that ended a three-game winning run and left the club 14 points behind leader FC Porto, a team that City demolished 6-1 over two games in the last round.
Additional report from AFP was used in this story.